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


New Amsterdam Project

July 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The New Amsterdam Project (NAP) “provides human-powered delivery services in the metro Boston area.”

Check out a recent video clip that aired on local Boston-area television:

An electric motor-assisted bicycle was not something I was particularly enthusiastic about, but after seeing the New Amsterdam Project in action, my mind has done a 180—sometimes you just have to abandon absolute purity in favor of absolute awesomeness.   :)

We referenced work bikes in our Big Initiatives post.

Google Maps and Tour de France 2008

July 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Google has partnered with Tour de France to bring us the Street View feature for all 21 stages of the 2008 Tour. I think much of France is extraordinarily beautiful, so even if you’re not a Tour person, you’ll probably be able to find some pictures that you really dig.

Check out the intro video:

When I first heard about this project, I thought, “Cool!” but now I look at it and think, “Ah-ha! Google is using the icon of a person on a bicycle to represent this!”

It might not seem like a big deal, but it is still kind of cool. There is really no way a Google developer could work on this and not think, “Darn—we should have bicycle directions on Google Maps.

Here’s a snapshot of what this Tour feature looks like, from Stage 3, Saint-Malo to Nantes:

On a semi-related note, some time ago I went to a Tour de France “viewing party” at a movie theatre in Arlington, Virginia (metro Washington, D.C.). A Washington Post blog entry about the 2005 party is here. This was one of the best events that I have ever attended. I hope they’re doing it again this year, but I don’t know. also has a couple of older blog posts that mention viewing parties. I tried to crank one up in Palo Alto a year or two ago, but didn’t have much luck. I hope to see more of these all over the place.

Monocle Magazine, 25 Most Liveable Cities, Alain de Botton, and Urban Design

July 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

A couple of months ago I started looking at (Google’s non-profit arm) just to see if we might be able to somehow get them involved in our efforts to see bicycle navigation on Google Maps. I knew they were big into renewable energy and staving off climate change, so they might have an interest in our lobbying efforts. I knew they were into plug-in hybrid cars, but I didn’t know they were into geothermal power. To figure out what geothermal was all about, I started Googling around, and must’ve cycled across this Monocle article on Swiss grocery store chain Coop (video interview), which Monocle labels “the greenest grocer in the world.” It turns out Coop (pronounced Kohp, like Hope) was using geothermal power. And that’s how I found out about Monocle Magazine (wiki).

A few months on, they provided us a list of the world’s most-liveable cities (subscription required). Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space gives us the full list. Copenhagen Cycle Chic was quick to tout Copenhagen’s top ranking. (Also, Denmark just came out on top of the “World’s Happiest Countries” ranking.) It’s OK, though—I plan to do the same when Austin makes #1. ;-)

Monocle is a high-end ($10 USD per issue; £7.50 Euros per issue), “freaky,” and all-around very good magazine. There are not too many magazines I can pick up these days and read more than an article or two of (Momentum is an exception), but if I could afford Monocle, I’d subscribe right away. At a minimum, you’ll get interesting pictures from all over the world. The website has lots of great video, and both the content and the look seem very polished.

Check out the video trailer for the “Quality of Life” issue here (.mp4 format), or just play the Flash version below:

To explain their methodology, Monocle’s founder and editor published an article in the IHT last year titled “Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great.”

For this current “Liveable Cities” issue, Monocle has an interview with Alain de Botton (homepage) (wiki) that is worth a listen.

A few years ago, I read de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy and thought it was pretty cool, so I was interested in what he had to say. I didn’t know he knew a thing or two about architecture.

Over and over again, it seems like we keep running into the concepts of urban design. For much of the world, it seems clear that we’ve messed up pretty badly and now we need to get back on track. Bicycling and urban design go hand in hand.

…p.s. I was hoping someone would smush this list of liveable cities up against the top bicycling cities and tell us what the overlap is. Is there a positive correlation between liveable cities and bikeable cities? I would think so, but I’d like to get a little more clarity.

Women's True Beginner Class

July 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Yet another inspiration from the folks in Atlanta: the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and Emory:

Ladies: Always wanted to learn to ride but never could or did? So many of us would love to ride a bicycle for the pleasure of riding with loved ones, especially kids and grandkids, for the satisfaction of moving by your own (green!) power, and for doing something active to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Here’s your opportunity to learn how to ride a bike with the support and encouragement of other women who share your enthusiasm and willingness to try something new and challenging. The course is designed and taught by a trained female Licensed Cycling Instructor and Atlanta Bicycle Campaign Cycling Educator especially for adult women who have never learned to ride.

This class is open to women only in order to ensure a comfortable learning environment and will take place on the grassy and green Emory campus.

I feel that this is really important because I suspect there are lots of people out there who are very self-conscious about hopping on a bike. Still. It doesn’t matter to them that we think “it’s no big deal,” or that “it’s easy, don’t worry about it, you’ll get it no problem,” or that “even kids can do it—go on, hop on, try it out.” We need to take folks’ concerns seriously.

With the title of this particular class having the words True Beginner in it, there is no room left for uncertainty; if you do not know how to ride a bike, you will be a perfect fit for this class. You will not be the only one in the class who has never ridden a bicycle, and no one will make you feel insecure for not having ridden a bicycle before.

To me, this class is an example of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and Emory reaching out, in no uncertain terms, to at least one group of folks who just can’t or won’t hop on a bike, even if they really want to. Maybe they never learned? Or maybe it’s been 20 years? Maybe they’ve been in other “fitness classes” where they felt intimidated by others being better cyclists and/or athletes? Maybe they’re just not comfortable doing exercise activities in the presence of men? It could be anything. But whatever it is, the folks at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and Emory are seemingly making it their mission in life to put these women on bikes, and that’s a great thing.

Further down on the page, we even have this:

Helmet and bicycle required – please let us know if you do not have a bicycle – we’ll work with you!

Again, the message to potential class participants is clear: “You do not have to explain yourself. You do not have to justify yourself. We are going to put you on a bike and make you self-sufficient. Just sign up, give us a call if you do not have a bike and helmet yet, and we will work with you to make sure you get what you need. We are going to help you learn to ride a bike. It is going to be fun. There will be no rush. There will be no pressure. Even if you have no idea what a bicycle looks like, we will most likely have you riding at the end of the day. We have a 98% success rate. And if you happen to be part of that 2% that does not quite get it the first time around, then we are going to make sure you get it the second time around. It is that simple. We will not give up on you.”

This is similar to the attraction that the entry-level triathlon packages might have for “true beginner” triathletes. Beginners are more likely to participate when all barriers to entry are removed.

Of course, not every organization has the resources to do this cool stuff, but many do. If nothing else, this would be my exhortation to myself and to all of us bicycling advocates to continue to reach out to folks and really try to grasp what is preventing people from participating in bicycling.

The Boston Globe covers the topic of adults learning to ride bikes, too:

SOMERVILLE - Michael Lamb is a 44-year-old history teacher with a quiet smile and unusual courage. He’s learning, finally, how to ride a bicycle - despite being nearly four decades older than the usual beginner. His goal is modest: ride well enough to accompany his two young children on local bike paths.

“The older you get,” he says, “you feel a little strange asking for help.”

But Lamb is hardly alone. Gas prices hovering above $4 per gallon have led to the busiest season so far for the woman known as Boston’s Bike Whisperer, Susan McLucas, a 59-year-old chronic smiler with a reputation for teaching even the most fearful and frustrated adults to balance on two wheels. Enrollment in Bicycle Riding for Beginners, offered through the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, has nearly doubled since 2006. And demand for one-on-one lessons is on the rise as well.

Don’t forget to check out the cool video.

Nokia Maps 2.0; online mapping dealmaking all around

July 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The online mapping world continues to change rapidly. Nokia Maps recently released an update to their mobile application that the online community seems to have dubbed “Nokia Maps 2.0.” The biggest new feature is pedestrian navigation; very cool stuff.

There is no bicycle navigation yet, and no plans to implement it that I know of.

Here is a demo/commercial of the new Nokia Maps. It starts out with the “Drive” stuff (blah), but gets to the “Walk” stuff about halfway through:

I suppose Nokia Maps would be a direct competitor to Verizon’s VZ Navigator mobile application.

Nokia is the biggest mobile handset manufacturer in the world, with 40% market share—that is “undisputed leader” territory. Their two closest competitors in this area (hardware) are not even close: Samsung and Motorola have 15% and 13% market share, respectively.

Nokia has been on an acquisition spree, as have other mapping companies. They recently purchased a Berlin-based mobile social networking company called Plazes (more).

Nokia also recently purchased Chicago-based NavTeq, the mapping technology provider that still also provides data to Google for Google maps. Mapping tech provider TomTom bought a rival mapping tech provider, Tele Atlas, and now Google has signed a data deal with Tele Atlas.

Oh, and Nokia also bought and open-sourced a mobile phone operating system called Symbian. Lots of folks (including me) thought it was a direct challenge to Google’s Android platform, and that could be true, but this writer has a slightly different take. Regardless, it’s important news; open-source mobile operating system software just allows developers (like Ride the City) to be innovative. There are still some concerns that the new iPhone will not allow applications to provide navigation (directions). Sounds a bit bizarre, but if you have one technology provider that is dominant, and you have a completely closed system, then they might just be able to get away with it. We’ll see how that pans out.

Google has also just released a new mapping technology in beta: Google Map Maker. Think “Wikipedia for maps.” In the wiki sense, it’s similar to the existing My Maps, but it adds new functionality, like “Show features near a point.” I would be hard-pressed right now to try to explain exactly how and why Map Maker differs from My Maps, but it seems like something worth watching closely.

I suspect Google’s move to create Map Maker was brought about from several motivations. One reason could have just been the desire to reduce risk. With all the mapping companies consolidating and getting bought by Google competitors, Google wanted to throw another variable into the mix—crowdsourced maps. There are other reasons Google might have created Map Maker: pure goodwill, a desire to improve map accuracy, to make money, a natural creation flowing from 20% time, and so forth. Some think that this effort by Google is a potential threat to the OpenStreetMap initiative. I’m not so sure, but I think we’ll have to see how things play out. Right now, you can only use Map Maker with a few areas/countries that just don’t have good map data available for them yet, apparently (e.g. the Caribbean islands, Iceland, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Vietnam, etc.).

I’m not sure what Map Maker means to our efforts to get bicycle navigation on Google Maps. Maybe something, maybe nothing, but I am very interested in this idea of wikimaps (lots of regular people being able to contribute to a map). I think the Ride the City guys really took things up a notch when they introduced their feedback form, which is a sort of wikimap. It seems Google Map Maker might do the same, albeit in a different way. Lean more about Map Maker at the Google Sites website (Google Sites is Google’s wiki product;  think Wikipedia, but a bit more structured, and easier to learn and use for novice computer users). [Update: And, of course, OpenStreetMap would have to be considered at least one of the leading and original wikimap makers.]

Of course, some high profile efforts to use Google Maps to help us get around safely by bicycle are going on in Boston. The bicycle advocate for the city of Boston, Nicole Freedman, is using Google Maps to both figure out where folks are riding (which routes), and then to actually implement Boston’s first bike map. At first, and for a long time (up until 3 minutes ago), I was very skeptical of the crowdsourced bike-route-creating idea, but now I see that is not really what was going on; instead, it was a bike-map-creating idea— somewhat related, but not quite the same thing. In any case, it now sounds to me like a great idea.  :)

And having a full bike map available on Google Maps might not be a first, but it would certainly be helpful to Bostonites, and it would garner some more publicity for our cause. NYC Bike Maps has an example of a full bike map implemented on Google Maps, and there have been countless other efforts from bike organizations and individuals. I think we still need some better Google Maps technology infrastructure to make a really great bike map on Google Maps (e.g. white tile background needed, better/faster Google Maps performance—possibly from the new Flash API, etc.). So, let’s see what Boston can come up with. Best of luck to Nicole and her team and all the bikers and volunteers helping out with those projects!


John Pucher is Published

June 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy, Green

The SFU City blog (Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, Vancouver, Canada) lets us know that John Pucher, The Bicycle Scholar, and his student/colleague, Ralph Buehler, have just been published in the latest edition of Transport Reviews, a 6-times yearly academic journal that uses the tagline, “A Transnational Transdisciplinary Journal.”

Sounds like an interesting journal!

[Is Ralph the infamous graduate student of Pucher's who failed his German driving test multiple times because he didn't properly account for the possibility that bicyclists could do something erratic and unpredictable? "Buehler? Buehler?" Yes, they're spelled differently. :) ]

The paper appears to be the formal study that supported his much-talked-about presentation at SFU a few weeks ago, a presentation which I tried to transcribe, with some success, here. I’m very happy to be able to see the study, because I missed a few city names that I’d like to do more reading-up on.

The title of the paper is “Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.”

You can download and study the paper here (PDF). [Thanks, SFU!]

Going back to #14 on the Big Initiatives list, I want to say (and this is just my opinion, of course) that this is awesome! :D That is, we should be thankful that John is one of us. He and Ralph (hey, Ralph is one of us, now) have done the research—now we just need to check it out, analyze it, see if it holds up to tough scrutiny, and then if it does, put it into practice (presumably, it’s already been subjected to some rigorous scrutiny, but there’s nothing like thousands of eyes to find any potential weaknesses). We can send the Thank You emails and all that, but at the end of the day, in my opinion, the best way we can thank John and Ralph is to educate ourselves, educate others, and then get this bicycling party cranked up by making good use of this research.

I know I plan on studying this report in detail. The in-person presentation was so overwhelming that it was tough for me to come away with much more than a feeling of, “Wow, we have a lot of work to do.”  :)

That’s part of the reason I wanted to do the transcript, but having the formal paper is even better. The structure of it will allow us to better analyze and make judgments about the data and findings, so we can act appropriately.

Even the abstract feels enlightening to me all over again (the bold emphasis is mine):

This article shows how the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have made bicycling a safe, convenient and practical way to get around their cities. The analysis relies on national aggregate data as well as case studies of large and small cities in each country. The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods. Extensive cycling rights of way in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are complemented by ample bike parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling. In addition to their many pro-bike policies and programmes, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany make driving expensive as well as inconvenient in central cities through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use and parking. Moreover, strict land-use policies foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter and thus more bikeable trips. It is the coordinated implementation of this multi-faceted, mutually reinforcing set of policies that best explains the success of these three countries in promoting cycling. For comparison, the article portrays the marginal status of cycling in the UK and the USA, where only about 1% of trips are by bike.

It’s pretty clear that what John and Ralph are saying, “Here in the U.S., we can do anything and everything we want to promote bicycling, but if we do not take care of these two provisions, we fail. It’s that simple. If we don’t make these two things happen, we will not have a bicycling culture, period.”

Those two things are:

1. Separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections.

2. Traffic calming of most residential neighborhoods.

There you have it. From his presentation, I remember John saying that we really need to do all of the things he talked about in order to support a comprehensive, integrated approach, but this abstract makes it clear that those two objectives must be completed to some minimal level before we’ll achieve our overall goals.

I would like to see this paper reworked into a very high quality digital presentation, maybe in Flash, and shortened to about 10 to 15 minutes, tops, so we can put it in front of lots of people—in particular, all city councilpersons, mayors, other officials, and even regular citizens.

Bicycle Friendly Business Program

June 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Yes, this is awesome: The Bicycle Friendly Business Program from the League of American Bicyclists:

Bicycle Friendly business program

Bicycling is good for communities, for businesses, and for people. It promotes active, healthy lifestyles, reduces traffic congestion, and improves air quality — and it’s fun!

The Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) program recognizes employers’ efforts to encourage a more bicycle friendly atmosphere for employees and customers. The program honors innovative bike-friendly efforts and provides technical assistance and information to help companies and organizations become even better for bicyclists. This new initiative complements the League’s Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) program, which has been recognizing cities and towns for their bicycle friendliness since 2003.

It’s brilliant. What else is there to say? Congrats to the League of American Bicyclists on a job well done!

This was definitely something we were hoping for, so this goes to show that if I think something is a good idea, then someone thought it was a good idea two years ago, and someone started implementing it at least six months ago.   :)

More on the program:

What is a Bicycle Friendly Business?

A Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) is a corporation, organization, association, or nonprofit that actively promotes bicycling for transportation, recreation, exercise, and sport. A BFB practices social responsibility by weaving bicycling into the business culture and gives employees the opportunity to be active stewards of their personal and environmental health through bicycling.

The Bicycle Friendly Business program evaluates applicants’ efforts to promote bicycling in four primary areas: encouragement, education, engineering, and evaluation.

This is absolutely incredible. The website is full of news and information and questions and answers about everything related to bicycling and businesses.

Now it’s up to us. We need to go over the site, read through everything, and then take it to our companies. We can go to HR, the Health & Wellness folks, other cyclists, anyone we can think of. We should express an interest in participating in the BFB Program whether we think our company is ready yet or not. If our company is not ready yet, we can at least go through the survey and application process (free, thanks to the Bikes Belong Coalition and Trek), and find out where we stand. A business can earn a status of platinum, gold, silver or bronze . If we don’t earn a BFB designation the first time around, no worries—we just get to work and re-apply in six months. It’s easy. We learn a lot in the process. We get more people biking and interested in biking. It’s an absolute win-win situation all the way around.

Businesses can apply twice a year—in March and in August. The next application deadline is August 15. So you can apply up through and including August 15th. If your business earns a designation, you’ll be notified and you can set up a press conference, you’ll be listed on the League of American Bicyclists website, you’ll be included in a national press release, and so forth. It really seems like a very well thought out program.

Anyone in the business can fill-out the application survey. We just need a “business leader” to sign off on it. That could mean a whole bunch of different positions, depending on the size of your company, but I figure the HR department is a good place to start. For myself, I’m planning on taking it straight to my HR Manager and making sure all my fellow cyclists know about it, and I’ll see what we can get going. I can’t wait!   :D

…p.s. I’m guessing I saw this new here, and I’m hoping we can somehow revisit the Carfree Portland 2008 Conference via video, but I’m not sure about that one yet - I’m checking with Stickam and

…Update: We found a fairly obvious “we will save you money” argument for businesses:

Cities could restrict car traffic

If regulations take effect, employers would have to encourage transportation options

By Margaret Allen
updated 4:00 a.m. ET June 23, 2008

Hammered by highway congestion, North Texas cities could soon try to pressure large employers to cut the car trips their employees take to work, in exchange for getting major highway construction on adjacent roads.

Urban planners at the North Central Texas Council of Governments hope to see such city ordinances in place by 2009, according to Senior Program Manager Natalie Bettger. The goal is to both reduce traffic congestion and cut pollution to improve the region’s dirty air.

The article is worth a read.

Two websites mentioned in the article:


I like the idea. Why not? As long as we make sure that the North Central Texas Council of Governments knows that lots more people will voluntarily bike to work if we have the appropriate bicycling infrastructure.

I’d also like to make sure that all of these organizations know of the Bicycle Friendly Business Program.

Thanks to the Austin Cycling Association email list for the tip!

Reach Out to Those Not Like You

June 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

In our Big Initiatives list we suggested it might be a good idea—a responsibility, even—to reach out to others in your community who may not “look/act/speak/be” like you. Some organizations are helping to lead the way.

While perusing the SFBC website tonight, I noticed that their banner image had changed to the image you see at the top-right. Their regular banner image, I believe, is the one to the left, here.

Why the change? I suppose it’s because this weekend is San Francisco Pride—one of the world’s most popular gay pride events. Technically, it is called “The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration,” so it covers all those groups of people (LGBT).

There’s another company that knows how to reach out to its audience. If you search a certain search engine for pride san francisco, you might just end up with search results that include adsense ads on the right that look like this:

The rainbow stripe is not usually there. I presume this only happens during pride week, and I’m not sure Google has ever done it before. Nonetheless, it shows Google reaching out to a group of folks who have traditionally been considered social minorities.

I think it’s very cool that SFBC and Google do this, and I suspect there are lots of ways that us bicycle advocates can show people in our community that they’re important to us.

And it doesn’t even have to be a recognition of some group along race/class/sexual orientation/religious/cultural lines. You could do something as simple as celebrating the graduating high school class, or a local hero, or the friendly dog or cat that always greets you at the local hardware store. You can and should reach out to social and cultural minorities, to make sure they feel welcome, and you can and should also try to find ideas and themes that represent the common bonds we all share—our collective shared experience.

Let the creativity begin!   :)

Marc Benioff: No more status quo

June 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Marc Benioff is the chairman and CEO of, an uber-successful and still-growing software company headquartered in San Francisco. If there was one company that I would say is even remotely similar to Google, it would be


Because it’s clear to me that Benioff wants to win; he wants to change the world of software. More specifically, he wants to bring about “The End of Software,” and that will be delivered via “software as a service,” or SaaS. Google is a growing SaaS provider, though they haven’t been as in your face about it as has

And Benioff is not shy about letting people know that he intends for his company to lead the way. He has a vision for the future, and that future is exactly where he’s taking us. We can go actively, passively, or kicking and screaming, but we’re going. Benioff and are going to see to it.

I believe all of us bicycle and walking and mass transit advocates should be this confident—this bold. We don’t need to be showpersons or uber-marketers, but we do need to believe that our vision of the future is the correct one, and that that future is exactly where we intend to take our friends and family, our neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, countries, and planet.

Benioff is one of those Silicon Valley types—smart, brash, bold, and some other words that folks have used to describe him. (more)   :)

But I like him. Or, at least, I like the character he plays on TV.

I think that type of positive confidence can be infectious, and it can help win people to our cause. For me, I can’t say I’d get all that excited about software as a service (SaaS), but I can get very excited about cycling, and walking, and good urban design, and vibrant communities.

Benioff and are in the news again because they just announced a new partnership with Google to provide more application integration stuff. In the video at the link, Benioff had this to say:

I don’t have time or patience for the status quo…for people who are trying to control innovation or stop the future.

I like this sentiment. A lot.

It’s what I’d like to tell car people when they try to stop us from improving our streets and our lives.

No! We’re done with standing still. We’re making things happen right now. We’re not gonna wait another day.

I feel like many of us advocates still feel timid about declaring openly that we’ve set out to change the world for the better. My message with this post is, “Don’t be timid.”

Bike lanes on auto-dominated roads are good progress, and necessary, but they’re not sufficient, and we should constantly challenge ourselves to demand more and better facilities. We should not want “equal” facilities - we should want more and better for bikers and walkers and mass transit riders than for automobile drivers. It’s time to start evening things out a little bit. Road Diet needs to be a very common term in our collective lexicon.

I think there are some interesting parallels where and the rest of the fledging SaaS industry was about ten years ago, and where the bicycling/walking/new urbanist movement is today. Benioff used to talk about “The End of Software.” He sounded like a lunatic just ten short years ago. But he was confident in his vision, and look at where we are now: Saas has obviously emerged as a viable technology. The hottest software companies on the planet are either SaaS providers, or are trying to be.

SaaS: Ten years ago, Benioff was selling a pretty good thing.
Cycling: Today, we’re selling a great thing.

SaaS: Ten years ago, Benioff seemed pretty sure of his success.
Cycling: Today, many of us are certain of our success.

SaaS: Ten years ago, people scoffed at Benioff’s phrase, “The End of Software”.
Cycling: Today, people scoff at the idea of The End of Cars.

SaaS: Today, there are a lot fewer people who scoff at the idea of “The End of Software.”
Cycling: Ten years from now, there will be a lot fewer people who scoff at the idea of The End of Cars.

No more status quo.

Toronto Cyclists Union Promotes Local Advocacy

June 21, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

When I first read about this, I was a bit blown away. I can’t articulate exactly why I think it’s such a great idea, but in my defense, sometimes you just know great things when you see them. This idea (which might not be brand new; read-on) and implementation from the still-new Toronto Cyclists Union seems to be something great.

Here’s what you see if you click on the My City link of their home page:

The Toronto Cyclists Union strives to provide a strong, unified voice for all cyclists, from all parts of Toronto. No matter where in our city you live, we want to bring together people for the common goal of ensuring that cycling is a legitimate, accessible, and safe way of getting through our streets.

Which ward do you live in? Who’s your councillor? Where are the bike lanes in your neighbourhood? Will the City’s bike plan affect you? What cycling events are going on near you? How can you find other local cyclists, and make changes in your part of Toronto?

Find out about advocacy and events in your neighbourhood

There is more on the page, but this top half of the page is what I’m after. The final text and link get to the real magic:

The argument is “local advocacy”. Yes, advocacy at the city/town level is important, as is advocacy at the state/province and national levels, but don’t forget about advocacy that’s super-close to home—your neighborhood or ward.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is, and sometimes the best ideas are simple. We can often be on the lookout for these grand solutions and we may inadvertently neglect doing the obvious infrastructure work—organizing at the (very) local level.

Clicking on Ward 20 produces this:

I was reminded of this ward idea when I saw it posted over on TheWashCycle blog.

And thanks to joe (from BikingToronto?) for pointing out that Toronto Cyclists Union may have actually gotten the idea to connect users with their individual wards from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. And that seems very possible. Not that it matters, but I want to give credit where credit is due. We all need to continue to borrow ideas from one another and expand on them.

I’ve poured over the SF Bike Coalition website before, but somehow this “wards” idea never struck me; it just never made an impact on me, and I’m sure I had to run across it before because it’s a main link (Current Actions) on their website. My guess is that maybe I just didn’t identify the phrase Current Actions with this idea of local advocacy. (If you think about it, it’s almost micro-advocacy.)

The link on the Toronto Cyclists Union site, on the other hand, reads My City. That, to me, could actually make a big difference. These days, everyone knows what “My <whatever>” means. Ever since the rise of YouTube, every site seems to have a “My <whatever>” section where you can customize the type of information made available to you, fill out your user profile, and generally take more responsibility for your user experience at that particular website. The same applies to the real world regarding cycling conditions in the ward you live in. And the real-world application requires some extra effort, too.

The Toronto Cyclists Union also tells us explicitly to “find out about your ward, who represents you at City hall, what events are going on, and what other opportunities are there to connect with cyclists in your community.” It could (and I would argue, should) actually go further and tell us to contact our local councillors, either by phone or email or both, and tell them our story, tell them who we are, where we live, how important bicycling is to us, and so forth. How do we cycle? When do we do it? Do we take the kids to school? Do we do our grocery shopping via bike? What is it we like about cycling? Why do we think it’s important for our neighborhood and our city? How can our neighborhood be improved for cycling? How can our councillor help us improve cycling in our ward? What specific initiatives are we working on that could affect our ward?

Our local politicians should hear all of these things from us, so let’s make it happen.   :)

…looks like I forgot to mention that each ward page also lists all the local bike shops and bicycle user groups (BUGs) in your local/ward area. Very cool stuff. Not sure how I left that out. Duh. Sorry.