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The Big Initiatives

May 25, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

What are the big initiatives—or the most-effective strategies and tactics—we can use to make the world a nicer place for cycling and for walking, and consequently a nicer place to live?

We all need to continue doing the good work we’ve been doing, but this is my attempt to list some of the initiatives that I think cycling and pedestrian advocates should use to make big changes in the immediate future.

After attending the 2008 Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Summit (pdf) (thanks, CAMPO), I feel like I’m now knowledgeable enough to share my non-expert advice. Though there is no particular reason anyone should listen to anything I have to say, I hope we can agree on a general strategic outline for success.

Here are some of the things I think advocates of bicycling should concentrate on:

1) Actively and passively push commuter cycling into mainstream consciousness by: [link]

Getting bicycle directions on Google Maps (what this website/petition is all about!)

Making bicycle maps available in a more readily available, user-friendly, and productive format—say, on Google Maps instead of on a PDF that requires PDF viewer software (This is a smaller focus of our website/petition)

Supporting the one or more national bicycle advocacy organizations in whatever ways we can. Whether it’s Bikes Belong, the League of American Bicyclists, the Thunderhead Alliance, or whatever, we need a very strong and visible national bicycling advocacy organization that speaks for all of us. Every bike shop in the country should have at least two brochures at their checkout counter: one for the local advocacy organization, and one for a national bicycle advocacy organization. Every bike advocacy organization and blog should have a prominent link to their local advocacy group and a national advocacy group.

Enlisting the support and cooperation of national bicycle retailers and chains. This means Performance Bike, but it also means Wal-Mart, Target, REI, and all the others.

Coordinating year-round national marketing and advertising campaigns for bicycle and pedestrian advocacy. Part of this coordination includes the creation of a consistent message about the benefits of bicycling and walking culture, as well as the destructive nature of car culture. A side effect of this coordination effort will be that every bike and pedestrian advocate will have a vision for where we are trying to go, and they’ll be able to relay that vision whenever they need to, and that vision will be roughly consistent with what every other bike and walk advocate is saying. We should all agree, for instance, on an appropriate metaphor to promote the right types of transportation, such as the Transportation Hierarchy pyramid seen here and used by Transportation Alternatives. We should all be able to state clearly and concisely why car culture is so harmful, and why bike and pedestrian cultures are so beneficial.

Promoting Ciclovías (or, Cyclovias). Here, I’m specifically referring to “the temporary event closing of the street to automobiles to allow dominance by other users.” Made popular with the help of StreetFilms, the ciclovia in Bogotá, Colombia is a great, inspiring example for us all. Every town needs at least one Ciclovia event per month—a closing down of a significant portion of some part of town to bike and pedestrian-only traffic.

Close down some or all parts of a park to pedestrian and bicycle-only traffic on certain (or all) days. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and others managed to get a Saturday closure added for Golden Gate Park after tireless work. There is The Car-Free Central Park Campaign in New York City. I remember having to dodge speeding cars in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park all the time. Parks are not for cars, and they’re certainly not meant to be alternate highways for speeding cars.

2) Promote and improve car-sharing programs (Austin CarShare, ZipCar, CarSharing.net): [link]

We have to start promoting car-sharing right alongside cycling. We have to be ready, willing, and able to address the real concerns of people who currently rely on their cars to do some things or everything. Car-sharing will help move people out of their cars and onto their bikes, so we need to promote car-sharing. It’s that simple. Cycling and walking advocates need to reach out to car-sharing companies, and the car-sharing companies need to reach out to us. It doesn’t matter who calls first; we just need to make it happen. [Baltimore and Ithaca coming online.]

Car-sharing companies need to do a better job of marketing themselves and making it easier for full-time drivers to move to car-sharing. The current value proposition to a potential car-sharer goes something like this:

If you give us, the car-sharing company, a hundred bucks up front and your credit card number, apply for membership, sign your life away in various ways, and buy some monthly service plan that you don’t even know if you’ll use or not, then I’ll let you borrow a “community car” once in a while…maybe…because it may not be available when you want it. And you’ll pay for how long you use the car—either on an hourly basis or sky-high daily basis—and you’ll still have to pay for your own gas, of course. And you’ll still be paying for the insurance, maintenance, and other associated costs for your own personal car, of course.

It’s a non-starter. Why sign up for something like that? We need to do better—a lot better. How about a free trial? A money-back guarantee? Some quality guarantees? A limited trial membership? Free signup? I mean, give us something to work with here.

3) Continue building bike-sharing/bike-rental programs (Velib, SmartBike DC, WheelHouse Detroit). [link]

4) Continue building college and university-based bicycle programs and co-ops (Velorution Project, Bike Cave, Orange Bike, Bike Emory). [link]

5) Lower barriers to entry for beginner cyclists: [link]

Offer bike shop “commuter packages (like this triathlon shop does for beginning triathletes), and continue to entice prospective commuters by showing definitive numbers on cost savings, calories burned, emissions reductions, and so forth. Commuter packages should include bike riding and bike maintenance training, route-finding, memberships to local and national advocacy groups, shower facilities, and more.

Push for bicycle-only and pedestrian-only routes of traffic and areas. These can be greenways (like the Minneapolis Greenway, the Atlanta Beltline, the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the San Francisco Bay Trail, etc.) or exclusive lanes like in NYC. Zero-automobile areas are ideal for walkers and cyclists and will promote bicycle use. In addition to just working on particular paths and bikeways, we should consider lobbying for the shut-out of all auto traffic from high-use downtown and other “town square”-like corridors. Dublin, Ireland is considering closing down parts of their city center to private automobile traffic, allowing only buses and taxis to enter. Presumably pedestrians and bicyclists and other human-powered modes of transport will be allowed.

Focus on personal security issues, such as how to prevent the harassment of all cyclists, with particular attention paid to female cyclists. We need to think not just about safety issues inherent in riding on busy roadways, but the safety of riding and walking in isolated and dark areas. At traffic lights, I feel like cyclists (and pedestrians) are too exposed to fumes and harassment. Maybe bike boxes are a step in the right direction, or maybe not, but at least we’re working on ways to make folks more comfortable on a bike.

6) Promote “lifestyle” cycling (like this bike-to-work poster does; bakfiets [aka work/cargo bikes]). [link] This should extend into any business areas, too. We should ask our local Postal Office to look at using bikes instead of trucks. We should try to incentivize businesses to start getting their employees to use bicycles for some trips, including jobs that might require cargo bikes—the Postal Service, home cleaning services, (pizza) delivery, and so forth.

7) Push for laws that respect pedestrian and bicycle access as a requirement for any new (re)development. [link] Such laws would put us advocates in a much stronger position — proactive rather than reactive. Instead of waiting for developers to drop their latest proposal on us any time they feel like it, they’ll have to do actual up-front planning that addresses bicycle and pedestrian issues, giving them the prominence they deserve when considering any new development (that is, more prominence than cars).

8 ) Find/(re)create/(re)organize the largest/most-effective coalition of lobbying/activist/advocacy groups/organizations possible. [link]  In Austin we have a few active organizations, and they all do good work, but I’m not convinced we have found the best mix yet. Do we combine organizations? Create a new one? Shift the focus of one organization or another? We may find that some particular mix of advocacy groups works best. Every town will have to find that right combination of advocacy groups for themselves, but we need to make sure that we’re all working together, cooperating, and coordinating to make sure we’re as effective as possible.

9) Continue building and supporting non-profit and volunteer-oriented groups and co-ops (Austin Yellow Bike, Boise Bicycle Project). [link]

10) Reach out to the non-English-speaking community, and other folks in your community who may not look/act/speak/be like you. [link]  The Atlanta Bicycle Campaign recently started hosting its first Spanish blog. Our website offers a couple of translations and direct access to the Google Translate widget. Whatever the particular makeup of your community, do your best to reach out to them in whatever way is most appropriate—whatever will allow people to be most receptive to your message. I am very interested in making sure that everyone can participate in our movement, not just because it’s obviously in my/our own best interests, but because it’s the right thing to do. I’m particularly concerned that ethnic and social minorities may be left out of our movement. Let’s make sure everyone is included in this awesomeness that we have going.

11) Form coalitions and work with: [link]

• other bicycle groups.

• non-bicycle groups. This includes walk/pedestrian groups in particular, but also with mass transit groups and anyone else you can think of, like local gardening advocacy groups, perhaps.

• local groups, and non-local groups. You might team up with non-local groups in creative ways, maybe using the Sister Cities model (also known as town twinning), or maybe even enlisting their help.

12) Create a mass-transit advocacy group, or make sure that your advocacy group is watching mass transit issues, too. [link]  Transportation Alternatives is a New York City-based group that is NYC’s advocacy group for “bicycling, walking and public transit.” The BayRail Alliance looks after rail-related transportation in the SF Bay Area. There are groups like ReconnectingAmerica.org that look after rail, aviation, and inter-city bus transit.

13) Create and promote a “town hall”—virtual and/or physical—that can connect the entire bicycle, pedestrian, and mass-transit community. [link]  The virtual place could be something like BikePortland.org, which is an incredible resource for the people of Portland who care about these issues. BikePortland helps connect all the people of Portland involved in bicycle, pedestrian, and mass-transit initiatives and helps to keep them informed of what everyone is working on. Every town deserves a BikePortland.org. I have been planning to launch a blog network to do exactly this, and StreetsBlog (New York City Streets Rennaissance) has already started implementing something like this with their original New York City-based website, as well as their still-relatively-new Los Angeles-based site. (If you might like to be involved in this, please get in touch.) Further, I would like to have a physical space where advocates could go to find like-minded folks, and just casually be able to run into each other, chat, and talk about new ideas. It could be a coffee shop, a bike shop with a coffee shop, a low-key monthly gathering at the local pub…it can be whatever you can think of. The idea is to make it easier for us to communicate with each other, to make real person-to-person connections, to increase the variety and vitality of ideas, etc. Maybe some place like the Centre for Social Innovation could be this physical space.

14) A continued commitment to research when considering solutions to our problems. [link] Research like this (study) can help us stay focused on what is actually important in making informed public policy decisions. I feel like the bicycling community already has a healthy respect for the validity and usefulness of transportation research. We need to continue that mindset, promote further research, and then capitalize on that research, making sure it sees the light of day and is put into practice.

15) Push to get local cyclists, walkers, and mass transit riders to support local advocacy groups. [link]  Not everyone has to support every local advocacy group that is doing work in their community, but everyone should be contributing something, like time, money, or other resources (equipment, services, discounted rental space, etc.). If you have no money, contribute time. If you have no time, contribute money. Find a way to help out. Lots of people are just trying to make ends meet, (believe me, I know this experience intimately) but we still need to expect everyone to help out in some way, in whatever way they can.

16) Hold fundraisers for local advocacy organizations. [link]  (Thanks to Linda DuPriest for presenting this idea at the recent Austin Bicycle Summit (pdf).) Lots of the runs, walks, and other events we all participate in have the goal of raising money for various charities, and most of the time they seem like very worthy charities. We should support other worthy organizations, such as our local bike/walk/mass transit advocacy orgs. The Cascade Bicycle Club has the Pedal Power program that lets riders raise money for any number of charities, some of which are bicycle/pedestrian-related. The new Toronto Cyclists Union is hosting a Pee-Wee Herman Picture Show (hey, whatever works, right?) that will include folks like Broken Social Scene. The Bike the Drive event in Chicago seems like a lot of fun, too.

There are lots of good ideas for big growth. I hope I’ve hit at least one of them in the sixteen shots I took above. In addition to these ideas, here are a couple of other ideas I’m not as sure about:

  • I passed an older gentleman on a recumbent trike (tricycle/three wheeled-bicycle thing) the other day. I thought that would be awesome for lots of other folks. One of the reasons I ride a bike for exercise (in addition to other uses) is because I cannot comfortably run at the moment (thank you, soccer-related injury). The baby boomers in America are already exploding into retirement. They need bikes. They need trikes. They need anything and everything to get them going and keep them active and healthy. Let’s face it—doing the hamster-on-a-treadmill routine inside some dank and nasty fitness gym is not for everyone. But two-wheeled bicycles can require a lot of athletic ability and balance; let’s address the older, less mobile crowd by making sure you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy riding a bike. Let’s push recumbents and trikes into the mainstream.
  • I’d like to see more bicycle-oriented get-togethers and conferences to keep energy high, and to promote cross-pollination of ideas. I thought a visit from a Danish national to Austin, and your town, would be cool because of the awesomeness of Copenhagen bicycle culture. I wrote an email to the Danish Embassy in D.C., and I found this list of Danish consulates and trade commissions around the U.S. If you live outside the U.S., you might want to check out the very-cool official Denmark home page, or the wiki page. Maybe a visit from a high profile Portland national would be cool, too. :)   [Great news!] [And don't forget the Bicycle Film Festival.]

Finally, just for fun, a video from the Ripon College Velorution Project:

How wrong am I on these? What big things did I miss?

…I knew I’d forget something. This is one of my favorites:

17) Create and aggressively market a ‘Corporate Cycling Certification’ program that will help large companies move more of their employees onto bicycles. [link]  In particular, companies with at least one large corporate campus should be primary targets, but just about every business is a potential customer. This is the type of program that can be run by a national organization (League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong, etc.), or a larger regional organization (Cascade Bicycle Club, Bicycle Victoria). Businesses are concerned about saving money; we need to figure out how putting employees on bicycles does that for them.  Businesses will be worried about liability.  We need to address that concern with training and certification.  We need to do all the thinking up front for companies, so that their HR/health/wellness personnel can just call us up and ask how much the certification program costs, and what the business can expect in return.  What if the company doesn’t have bike racks?  What if they don’t have showers?  We need to be ready with answers - preferably published on our new ‘Corporate Certification’ site.  Large businesses don’t employ a majority of the American people, but they do hold a large place in our hearts and minds.  Google, Dell, Apple, Microsoft, GE, Coca-Cola, IBM, Gap, Nike - all these companies and more vie for top talent.  The top talent increasingly want work/life balance - some companies have already seen the light.  Great employees want to work in bike-friendly towns, and they want to work at bike-friendly companies.  There are designations for bike-friendly communities.  There are designations for bike-friendly states.  How about a designation for bike-friendly companies?  Hospitals might be a good place to start, since they know the value of being healthy, and the cost of being unhealthy.  Healthier employees are happier and more productive employees, and there is an increasing body of research to suggest that aerobic exercise is not just good for your heart, but also for your brain.  It seems some tech CEOs, like Enrique T. Salmen, are going the ‘super endurance’ route, too - they’ll know the value of a bike ride.  Search Google News for ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ and see what employers are doing to incentivize employees to just get up and walk around the block once in a while; employers need us — we just have to meet them half way.

Women’s Garden Cycles Bike Tour

May 25, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

From their website:

We are three friends who are planning a three-month-long bicycle journey to tour and document food-producing garden projects from Washington D.C. to Montreal - and back again.

These three friends got together and decided to do a bike tour that would help document the growing community gardening movement. I think it’s a great idea. It seems they’ve finished their trip and they just did their first official preview.

Here is the trailer:

Not too long after I got into this commuter bicycling thing, I learned there were different popular advocacy movements that can help each other and feed off of one another; I believe that community gardening and bicycling are two such movements.

If you’ve never heard of community gardening, you may know about another form of it—the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. It’s not quite “community gardening,” so to speak, but it seems to possess the same general philosophy. As a member of a CSA, you pay either a monthly or seasonal fee, and in return you get a big basket of fruits and veggies every week or two weeks. Many CSA farms offer different packages; you pick the one that is right for you. CSA baskets seem to be fairly popular with workplace offices.

LocalHarvest is a website with lots of info about the CSA community. Also, check out the American Community Gardening Association for more information on community gardening.

We should find the synergies between the community gardening and cycling communities, and leverage those synergies into a broader, stronger political force.

Hat tip: Garden Rant.

Where2.0, WhereCamp; More Mapping Fun

May 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Where2.0 is a conference for geo-oriented developers that is going on right now. O’Reilly, the mega-publisher of computer geek books, is producing the conference. Here’s what their web page has to say:

GIS has been taken to heart by neogeographers, a new breed of developers with increasingly powerful tools built on the back of open standards and free APIs from the likes of Google and Microsoft, and application frameworks like Mapstraction and GeoDjango. Increasingly, the open source GIS stack is supporting the Web, adding a new arrow in the neogeographer’s quiver. Geonames, an open-data service, is built from this data web-accessible data. Google has started exposing geo data in a separate index that is growing daily.

Translated, this means that everybody is in love with GIS (geographic information systems) and geographic data of all sorts right now, in part because GIS data used to be “for GIS professionals only”—now, this is changing.

The “geoweb” is the Web, powered by GIS dataa relatively new term that implies the merging of geographical (location-based) information with the abstract information that currently dominates the internet. This would create an environment where one could search for things based on location instead of by keyword only‘. GIS information is an important part of the geoweb, but it is not strictly necessary for the geoweb. A web page tagged with the location ‘Atlanta, GA’ in some standard format - without using any GIS data, per se - can become part of the geoweb as soon as Google geoindexes that page. GIS data is typically stored in old-school GIS databases and programs, and the data is not readily-available on the web. There is an incredible amount of information in the GIS world, so lots of people (including me!) are very excited to see it make into the mainstream of computing consciousness.

Check out this video for a joint presentation by Google and ESRI. ESRI (wiki) is the leading GIS software developer, with upwards of 50% of the total market share for GIS software. They are, in short, a very big deal. Chances are that your local, state, and national government uses ESRI software extensively.

The Where2.0 blog reports what all the hoopla is about:

John Hanke invited Jack Dangermond on stage. Jack is the founder and CEO of ESRI; he is the godfather of GIS and by extension neogeography. Jack and John are the only people who have spoken at every Where 2.0. The upcoming release of ArcGIS Server 9.3, ESRI’s flagship product, will now publish in KML and GeoRSS. Every install will be able to output to a streaming KML file. There’s always been a dark web of geodata. Now this is being exposed and we can expect the geoindex to grow because of it.

And this weekend is WhereCamp at the Googleplex. WhereCamp is more of a hacker get-together, where people organize themselves into smaller teaching-oriented sessions, hold Q & A’s, work, create mockups, learn, and much more. Maybe there will be some aspiring bike route mappers there? :)

All of this is good news for our efforts to see bicycle directions on the main Google Maps interface. Bike route information is generally stored as GIS data, and this new partnership between Google and ESRI should help make it easier for everyone interested in bike map/route data to gain access to it. And GIS experts will now have an easier time of sharing their knowledge and expertise with the world.

As we’ve mentioned previously, part of all this excitement surrounding “the geoweb” is being generated by the upcoming releases of the new iPhone, and the first Android-powered cell phones this summer—both of which are supposed to ship with built-in GPS technology.

P.S.: Google has introduced a new Flash API for Google Maps, and the Google I/O Conference happens in two weeks.

…Schwarzenegger Calls for Task Force in California for expanded GIS Use.

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Bike Pittsburgh's Google Maps-based Bicycle Map

May 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

It doesn’t provide bicycle directions (yet?), but it does have a bunch of cool features.

The map shows on-street bike routes, “cautionary” bike routes, and bike trails. It also shows bike shops, trail access points, reported crashes, bridges, landmarks, and notes.

This is a very cool thing! For more information, check out the blog post and map.

Making a Difference During Bike-To-Work Week

May 14, 2008 By: Brandon Warga Category: Uncategorized

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Happy cycling!

The Commuter Package

May 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Bike sales are booming. Great. Now what? Well, it’s Bike-to-Work Week. I say we put some more people on bikes!

But how?

I stumbled onto the website of a local Austin triathlon shop, Jack and Adam’s, and they had three triathlon packages. I thought, “Great! This is exactly what we need to turn commuter motorists into commuter cyclists.” To attract more people to bicycling, I would very much like to see a “Commuter Package” in every bike shop and retailer in America and around the world.

Of course, this idea of a commuter package could be a total disaster (and it’s not even necessarily new). I could also just be completely wrong that this would be at all useful. On the other hand, you/we might be able pull something like this off with a relatively small amount of effort. Details below.

Here are the details of Jack and Adam’s Rookie Package (miniaturized a bit to fit on this page):

First, I want to point out what I think are the brilliant aspects of package deals and this particular implementation:

  • It’s a known price, so customers can work out the financials. (Comfort)
  • Every item is listed and details about them can be found online. (Comfort)
  • The package level is intuitive. (Comfort)
  • The package is not just a salesperson telling a potential customer about some unseen package deal that includes a myriad of options about which the customer has no information whatsoever. This package is marketed online, allowing the customer to get completely comfortable at their own pace with the lifestyle they’re about to buy into. (Comfort)
  • The package deal might be more attractive to the value-conscious customer. (Value)
  • It is obvious to the customer that someone has made a significant effort to market to new triathletes. The customer appreciates the attention to detail, as well as knowing that any salesperson they encounter at the shop will be fully knowledgeable of the significant information overload confronting any new triathlete. (Expertise, comfort)
  • This web page / ad is very visually appealing: the design is crisp, focusing on the core component—the bike. The price is clear. The discount is clear. It all seems pretty straightforward. (Experience, comfort)

I soon stumbled onto the Austin Tri-Cyclist website, another triathlon shop in Austin which also has four triathlete packages. Here is their Newbie Package. I really like the name Newbie because it’s honest and simple; I imagine it would significantly simplify communications between sales staff and customers.

Imagine someone thinking about trying out this cool triathlon stuff they heard about on the radio or from a friend. They hear about the Newbie Package at Austin Tri-Cyclist, check it out online, start looking at some upcoming races, maybe take a peek at some training programs, and think, “Hmmm…I wonder if I can do that?”. And they eventually decide that they can.

So they get in touch with Team in Training or some other training program and then head down to Jack and Adam’s or Austin Tri-Cyclist to buy a triathlete package. When they walk in the door, they say, “Hi. I was checking out the Rookie/Newbie Package,” and the salesperson can take it from there. There’s no fear, no groveling, and no further explanation needed. The shop person will get the future triathlete outfitted with the correct bike and gear sizes, big-up their confidence a bit, make sure they’re on track with a training program, and send them on their way to a fuller, happier, better life. Austin has a new triathlete, local walking / running / swimming / cycling groups may get a new advocate, the local economy gets a boost, and these retailers get an immediate sale with repeat business to come. Just like that.

It’s easy. And it should be.

But it is only easy for the customer / future triathlete because someone took the time to make a big effort in compiling these packages, getting the pricing down, designing the web ads, thinking ahead, staying on top of things, and generally making the entire activity of triathloning much more approachable than it would otherwise be.

We need the same thing for cycling—in particular, bicycle commuting (usually we think of this as “to and from work”) and “lifestyle” cycling (“to and from the grocery store, to visit friends, etc.”).

I posted this idea to our local cycling list and got some good feedback. They were two main types of feedback: a) this “packages” concept already exists, and b) you forgot to put item x/y/z in your commuter package item list.

For a), I think it’s not enough to tell folks after they come in the door of your shop that you have some deal going on with the twenty items they’re going to need to become commuters. It’s too much information to process at once, and they might get suspicious. Having it on the website and available for inspection is a big deal, in my opinion. I’d say it is crucial; if you are not advertising your commuter package on your website or in a newspaper or on a flyer/handout, then you don’t really offer a package.

For b), if I don’t get hammered on this post too much, I’d like to put up a separate page proposing what I and others (including you!) think would be good items to include in any commuter package. These will be things like: a “commuter bike” that comes standard with the following items:

  • Chainguard and fenders
  • Front and rear lights
  • Lock
  • Bell
  • Back rack
  • Panniers
  • Gearing suggestions
  • Repair kit / tube / tire levers
  • Membership to local cycling group
  • City cycling / Road I / Confident Cycling training ride,
  • Route-finding / bikepooling help

If you have a suggestion or comment, please leave a comment or send an email and I’d be very happy to make sure it is included if and when we create this page (I still have all original email list replies).

It may very well be the case that some bicycle retailers may not have the time or money to do something like this. I understand that. The more I learn about the bicycle retailing world, the more I wonder how it’s possible for any independent bicycle dealer (IBD) / local bicycle shop (LBS) to even stay in business. The stories of these smaller shops closing down by the hundreds per year or being forced to move about just to stay afloat are sadly not news to anyone in the bike business.

That’s not to preclude smaller shops from offering this or other inventive products and services; I’m merely acknowledging that resources are limited.

So who else could market these kinds of packages?

Well, there are national chains like Performance Bike, which I just started working for part-time. (Yes, I’ve pitched the idea already, but no, I have not quite been successful yet). Is Performance the only regional/national bike chain?

There are stores like Walmart, Target, and REI, but I don’t feel like they’re necessarily good advocates for lifestyle and commuter cycling. Not that they couldn’t be—it’s just that they probably would not want to be. There’s not enough money in it for them, I suspect, and doing so is just not really in line with their business. Nonetheless, I’d wholly encourage them be bigger / better / stronger advocates for lifestyle cycling. :)

There are somewhat-larger independent bike shops, like Bicycle Sport Shop here in Austin—a place with an intense local following, a long history of community involvement, and deservedly loyal customers—and they’re big enough that they might be able to pull off something like this. That is, they might have the time / money / floor space / window space / attention to assemble a full-on commuter package.

Any thoughts? In the meantime, Happy Bike-to-Work Week. Get out there and ride!

Mellow Johnny's: Awesome!

May 10, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

I was definitely a bit of a skeptic, and I’m not saying that Mellow Johnny’s is going to be a runaway success, but I have a very good impression after my first visit. I feel very confident - as much as one can from a first visit - that Mellow Johnny’s can and will have a big impact on cycling in Austin, and even cycling in Texas and America. Yes - I think it can be that big of a deal.

I’ll update this post a bit later with some pictures I took, and a short video of the mens bathroom/shower area, with some additional notes. In short, the mens bathroom was on the smallish side, but about what you’d expect. Two bathroom stalls (I think), with three showers.

The schedule for the rest of the day:

12 noon - Michael Ward (Mike and the Bike)

2 pm - Chris Carmichael (wiki)

4 pm - Gary Fisher (wiki)

6 pm - Lance Armstrong (wiki)

There was probably about ten of us waiting to get in this morning - not the mad rush and lines I expected. A few bikey events are going on around town, including the annual Armadillo, so that probably pulled a good number of people away from the opening this morning.

The store is very nice/appealing, as you might expect - not sure what the style is called, but it reminded me of cycling store version of Chipotle. :) Sorry - that’s the best description I can think of.

The coffee shop had good coffee, and a wifi signal, but I couldn’t get my laptop to connect to the net there. I’m at a Wahoo’s around the corner.

The maintenance/repair section of the shop is very very clean. That was a bit weird. Is a bike shop maintenance area supposed to be that clean? Maybe so.

When you walk in, you are greeted by lots of bikes - with a commuter bike being the absolute prime attraction - a $699 Swobo Novak, complete with chain guard and front and rear fenders, and rear panniers. Awesome.

Lots of the bikes are decently-priced - $400s to $600s. There are a few different commuter bikes, including a Dahon. There were also a few Seven bikes.

They had some fixies and a couple of low-riders and a couple of vintage bikes.

There were lots of clothes, including running clothes.

The downstairs is not finished yet. When it is, they’ll offer spinning and yoga classes, private bicycle storage, etc.

I picked up a copy of Momentum - score!

The prime window of the whole store (in my opinion - I’m no retailer, yet) is occupied by some clothing on a mannequin and backed by another commuter bike that has the rear panniers (saddlebags) filled with groceries. Awesome. It also has an attached Soma coffee mug holder if you’re the type who would start cycling to work, but aren’t crazy at the thought of giving up your morning jolt.

All seven of Lance’s yellow jerseys are up on the walls, there are lots of near-life-sized pictures of Tour scenery - very inspirational.

There are a few high-end bikes that roll up into the $8k+ range and more. There’s a whole wall of mountain bikes.

The Mellow Johnny’s/Six cycling team (??) showed up for a bit, and Mike Ward rode out with them ‘for 50 or 90, depending’.

The Austin farmer’s market was going on down the block, and a few thousand other people in the street for some kind of fun run/walk.

…no bike racks yet. No nitpicking, just pointing out. Sounds like the opening was crazy/hectic.

Here’s a quick video of the mens bathroom and shower area:

Racing or Commuter Bike Shop?

May 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Mellow Johnny’s, Lance’s new bike shop to open soon in downtown Austin will be both, approximately two-thirds for racing, one-third for commuting.

Having any bike shop mention the word commuting in their marketing at all is a big deal—and a very good thing, in my opinion. Having such a marquee store doing it is an even bigger deal, and an even better thing.

That said, another part of me thinks that high-end bicycle racing gear and commuter/lifestyle gear do not necessarily go hand in hand in the retail space. With two very different cultures, they are about as close to inhabiting two different, parallel worlds as you could imagine.

Think fast food vs. slow food.

Racing vs. commuting.

Apples vs. oranges.

There’s nothing to read into with those analogies—racing is not better than commuting, nor is the opposite true. I’m just picking some non-controversial concepts to demonstrate what I think is the cultural difference between these two types of bike use.

That said, bike shops chains like Performance Bikes seem to be able to sell to all sorts of bike folks, from beginners to not-so-beginners. My last three bikes came from Performance: one hybrid, one single-speed, and a road (racing) bike. I had a good experience every time I bought from Performance, and I’ve often gone back for supplies. There’s definitely something to be said for chain stores; they’re big, and they probably have what you’re looking for if you’re just a regular biker. I’m not sure how much places like Performance appeal to hard-core bicycle racers, though. Any thoughts?

The awesome Momentum magazine has Lance on the cover this month. Be sure to check out what Lance and others have to say about the new store.

(Hopefully MJ’s will carry Momentum. I’m not really into most of the bike-related mags I see on the stand at bookstores, but for whatever reason, Momentum applies to my world. The everyday bike riders I see in their pictures are the people I actually see on the streets every day. They’re just like me. I want Momentum on the magazine racks in my town.)

The Charlotte Observer has a quick piece on the steady pace of business, and lack of the commuter infrastructure use, at Black Sheep Cycles:

One might think with gas prices at record highs, more people would turn to bicycles for their commute, especially urban-dwellers living near uptown.

Not so, says Ethan Grossman, who opened Black Sheep Cycles three years ago.

Grossman envisioned his store as a social club, where cyclists could relax and watch movies. Two plasma TVs hang in the 3,300-square-foot shop, nestled off West Morehead Street in west Charlotte.

He also bought an espresso machine, expecting to sell lattes and other coffee drinks. The store offers showers for commuters.

That part of the business never took off. So the front of his store sits unused, filled with bike tires, sofas and armless mannequins.

The proper reaction is not panic, but rather a willingness to learn and adapt as necessary, if necessary.

As a bike commuter and potential commuter bicycle buyer, I’m not particularly interested in shopping for my commuter bicycle at a high-end bike shop. That’s probably just me, but that’s the way I feel. For instance, if I am going in to buy a Honda Accord, I don’t necessary want to go into a shop whose floor space is two-thirds BMWs, with only a one-third left for my Accord. That’s the practical aspect of my preference. But the other aspect—the cultural aspect—is just as important, if not more so. I don’t want to buy a “boring” commuter bike from someone who would rather be selling high-end carbon frame racing bikes. My perception may or may not be accurate, and it may or may not be shared by anyone else in the whole world. But I suspect that most potential commuter buyers would rather go into a bike shop where they won’t fear getting lectured about the necessity of having clipless pedals (more on perception). This has a lot to do with marketing. Mellow Johnny’s seems to be doing good work, so far, in being welcoming to everyone—racers and commuters alike—but I wonder if just anyone could pull it off, or if it requires a personality/celebrity like Lance to pull it off. What do you think?

I’m also hoping Mellow Johnny’s can do some kind of lunch event, where they invite the tens of thousands of local office workers to come over and have a look around, ask questions about whatever they want, check out the facilities, and so forth. It’d be cool to have a nice video up on the website that basically does a walk-around of the store and especially of the shower/commuter facilities.

I’ve met and/or know of some of the folks involved with Mellow Johnny’s, and I’m more than convinced that they are exceptional people and have their bicycling hearts in the right places. I’m just not so crazy about that 1/3 share for commuters. Hey, I’m not hating; I just want more and better for commuters, who have a great chance to help reshape society for the better, and to have a very large impact right now. I have tremendous love for commuter/lifestyle cyclists.

For the record, I want to see a full-on commuter bicycle shop in downtown Austin and in downtowns everywhere. I think downtown Austin and other large cities could support several full-service bike shops. And I wouldn’t mind having the bicycle community reach out to area gyms to do some joint marketing. Maybe bicycle commuters could use the shower and laundry facilities at local gyms, which are already established in the downtown core areas. Individual riders already do it; we should formalize it and make it easier for folks.

Of course, I hope I’m wrong about a “racing shop” being not the best match for a “commuting shop” in terms of retailing. (And it would not be uncommon for me to be wrong, of course.) But I do want to think about the big questions and be ready to adapt if the time comes to do so.

My message to customers and potential customers alike? We’re growing both sides of the business aggressively, and if things go well we may have separate full-on facilities for both: one focused on commuter/lifestyle cycling, and the other for racing cycling. :)

Springtime is here, and business is booming. If ever there was a time to be optimistic and try new things, it’s now.

A couple more pre-opening pics of Mellow Johnny’s:

…added the bottom three night photos, from tonight….a few hours before opening.

White background needed for bike directions

May 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

This issue has more to do with bicycle maps (probably), than it does with bicycle directions, per se, but it’s still an important point. Our petition is primarily about bicycle directions, not maps - but maps obviously play an important role.

Check out the following map comparison (click for a bigger version). On the left is a view of Austin from Google Maps with the blue and green bike lanes highlighted (it’s incomplete, and I didn’t do red bike lanes because I think red bike lanes are worthless, or worse). On the right is a clip out of the Austin Bicycle Route map, which is in PDF format. They’re not correctly aligned, but I did the best I could.

I started recreating the Austin Bicycle Route map - the PDF - on a Google Map using the ‘My Maps’ feature of Google Maps. I thought it’d be cool to try, and I was curious what it would look like. I have even used it a bit to find my way around, but there are several things wrong with it - one of them being that it can be difficult to make out the actual bicycle lanes on the google map.

To me, the map on the right - the PDF - is the better bicycle map. The main (only?) reason it is better is because you can actually see all the bike routes clearly. And the reason you can see all the routes clearly is because of the PDF map’s white background. Compare that to the Google Map which has the grey background. The Google Map version also uses more and deeper colors for roads (yellows) and green areas (green). Those are great for directions, but they’re not so great for showing bicycle routes on a map because they just make it that much harder to see the bicycle lanes.

Myself and other folks have tried, with some success, to automatically convert GIS data from the city of Austin, and other places, into/onto Google Maps. I think it would be really cool if we could pull this off and have it look awesome. Right now, we’re not there yet, but that’s a hope.

So, how does all this apply to bicycle directions as opposed to just bicycle maps? Well, bicycle directions, in an ideal and completely awesome world, would be able to tell us which parts of the directions were which type of bicycle route - ‘easy’ (green), ‘medium’ (blue), or ‘difficult’ (red). If we want to see this ‘nice-to-have’ feature as part of our bicycle directions on Google Maps, we’ll probably need a white backgrounded Google Maps interface.

…ps - Happy Bike Month!

Mellow Johnny's opening May 10, 7am

May 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Mellow Johnny’s is Lance‘s new bike shop, about to open in downtown Austin.

In theory, some aspect of it will be commuter-focused, which, in my opinion, would be extremely cool, because I’ve never seen a bike shop cater to commuters - even a little bit. The store might have lockers and/or showers for commuters - we’ll know in about nine days.

The picture is from my cell phone - thus the low quality. It’s one of a couple signs up on the outside of the store.

Here is a embedded Google Street View of the store:
View Larger Map

Notice the garzagantuanishohmygoshthatthingishuge building going up right across the street from the store. That’s a pretty common sight in downtown Austin these days, as it is in lots of cities across America (San Diego, Portland, and Miami come to mind).

…The wiki page explains how the nickname ‘Mellow Johnny’ came about: (from ‘Maillot Jaune’, French for ‘Yellow jersey’).

…previous article in the local Austin paper.

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