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BikePooling

April 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps, Traffic

Bikepooling is the practice of riding your bike in the company of at least one other cyclist. It is similar to carpooling, but usually each cyclist has their own bike.

Some of the advantages to bikepooling are different than the advantages of carpooling, but they both share at least one very important aspect: the company of others.

How does a bikepool even get started? Here’s an example from RocBike.com:

A few weeks ago, we were working together on a gender awareness workshop for Beyond the Binary. We both mentioned that we commute to work by bike, and realized that we live in the same neighborhood and work in the same direction. We also, unfortunately, had both faced motorist aggression on roads designed with cars, trucks, and buses in mind instead of bicycles. And so began our experiment in bikepooling — we meet up just about every morning for 25 minutes of commuting, conversation, and adventure.

Our experience has been fantastic. This morning we ate a small breakfast together in the convenience store parking lot where we meet. We said “Hi” to people as they walked by, and shared a smug conversation about automobile repair costs. We headed out on our bikes, riding side by side down a double lane road, while the conversation continued. A couple cars honked at us at an intersection without a shoulder, but shortly after that we were turning off the busy street onto a side street and through the Public Market. From then on, it was mostly easy riding, through the north side of downtown.

I like the “smug conversation” part.  :)

Why is this bikepooling thing even necessary? In that same post, the good folks from RocBike have given as good a definition as I’ve seen yet:

Carpooling attempts to mitigate the problems inherent with using automobiles—fuel costs, environmental impact, traffic congestion, and parking space; to name a few. Commuting by bike eliminates these problems altogether instead of merely reducing them, so at first glance bikepooling may seem unnecessary. But bikepooling shares carpooling’s benefit of social interaction and brings a whole other set of benefits to the table—increased visibility on the road, improved respect from other road users, and cooperative adventuring. If driving a car is a passive, rote task; and riding a bike is about actually living your life; then bikepooling is a way to share the daily adventure of bike commuting with someone, to learn how to be safe and fun together, to try new routes and get into the groove of familiar ones, to laugh and play together while being ambassadors for a safer, cleaner, happier city.

The previous post on Bicycle Highways made me think, “Huh. I wonder if it’d get lonely out there on those massive bike highways?” I figured, “Nah,” or, “I could deal with it,” or, “Sounds like a great problem to have!” But I also remembered the loneliness of my first couple of days on my bike trip from San Rafael to San Diego. (Zowie…700+ miles by the time I finished!) When I started out, everything was cool, but then the weather got rainy and cold, and I was tired (I never did more than 30 miles in one go) and lonely and very sunburned and I could hardly stand up straight because of a luggage-carrying back strain/thing I got just days earlier (which actually delayed my start date by three or four days). In short, I was in a bad way. And then my cell phone service went out (Big Sur has pluses and minuses). I thought I was gonna quit the trip.

And then I met up with another southbound cyclist, and it was really cool and fun from there on out. He was definitely a strange cat-he would say everything twice-he would say everything twice-but I’m a bit strange myself, so it all worked out.  :)   Anyone who’s been part of a cycling or running group knows that the camaraderie of other folks, and the expectation and hope that you’ll get to see other folks after you get out the door, is one of the prime motivating factors that allows you to get out of bed on those cold, dark winter days. Alone time can be great, but so can the community aspect of doing things together, even just commuting.

Here’s a special bikepool that happened in Long Beach yesterday. Going to the farmers market. Man, I could go for some fresh veggies right about now.

The BikePortland folks have an entire forum dedicated to bikepooling, and the sticky post at the top titled “Welcome to Carpooling” says this:

This forum is meant for people to connect, create and get advice on setting up bikepools in their neighborhoods.

Bikepooling is like carpooling. Portland cyclist Elly Blue started one up in her Southeast neighborhood. I wrote about it on BikePortland.org and someone suggested a forum where people could connect.

So here it is. But first, here are a few things to consider when posting your bikepool (suggested by Elly Blue):

A) Your bikepool announcement should include the following information:
-Starting point
-Starting time (specify a meeting time and/or departure time)
-General route (eg, over a particular bridge)
-Other important data, eg fast or slow, beginners welcome, etc.

B) Don’t ask if anyone’s interested in a certain route/time — just invite people. You have to go to work anyway, so if it’s a weird route and nobody shows up for the first week or two, well, what do you have to lose?

__________________
Jonathan Maus
BikePortland.org

And then there is the BikePooling.com website designed to help people organize their bikepools. It doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot of traffic yet, but maybe we can help change that, no? And, they’ve only just gone live, so I’m sure things will be picking up, now. Like every good website, BikePooling.com has an RSS feed to help us easily keep track of what’s going on. Good work, y’all! It appears to be a bit buggy, but hopefully that will get worked out soon enough.

Semi-side note: The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Bike the Bridge Coalition, and the Bay Area Bike Coalition and others are all working on getting a bicycle route that spans then entire length of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (total length: 8.4 miles or 14km). This is not the famous Golden Gate Bridge, which already has bike/pedestrian access; this is the other Bay Area bridge. But the Bay Bridge is awesome. And being able to bike over it would be awesomer.  :)   If you were to bike it on a regular basis, you might want some company, so this is definitely a BikePooling-type bridge. It’s a worthwhile effort, so if you have some time, read through their websites and see how you might be able to help. San Francisco is a huge tourism town, of course, so even folks who don’t live there could have an influence by doing things like contacting the chamber of commerce and telling them you support such a plan.

I don’t have a regular commute in Austin yet, but I will be very interested to know about folks who are already bikepooling and anyone who decides to try it out, wherever they live.

One of the earliest groups (if not the earliest) talking about bikepooling was Bike Pittsburgh. Here is an article in the local newspaper about their efforts from two years ago.

Crisis politics, marketing, and the Tipping Point

April 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy, Finances, Uncategorized

Courtney Dudley /AMERICAN-STATESMANI’ve previously mentioned the phrase “Now is the time” to emphasize my impression that we could possibly achieve a whole lot very quickly if we really went after things, as opposed to just sitting back and taking advantage of current economic conditions-namely, rising gas prices.

This post is a short thought to drive that point home and perhaps make it a bit more concrete.  :)   Many of us already do all that we can. Still, I think this is an important point to make.

Let me get to it.

The short version:

A little bit more work right now can save us a lot of work later.

Or:

A little bit more work right now could possibly turn the tide. It could it could help move us up to and over the tipping point (book), because right now, at this moment in time, the tipping point is closer than it’s ever been before-and it’s a temporary condition.

Certain political ideas (possibly with some roots in military and humanitarian affairs?) that have attained particular prominence over the past few years can be lumped under the banner of “crisis politics”. The key theme of these ideas is that when people are in a state of crisis, they just want a solution that works. It doesn’t have to be a good long-term solution; it has only to be a solution that is good enough to get them and their families to tomorrow.

People in the U.S. are not starving or anything (yet), yet they’re having to make cuts to all their discretionary spending. And rice rationing is already occurring at large retailers. People aren’t quite panicked yet, but there are folks who are looking around, thinking, “What is going on?” The article linked above states, “people will not give up their cars,” but they leave out the context for that assertion, which is that “riding a bicycle in most parts of America can be very daunting for the uninitiated.” We need to let people know that this situation can change very quickly.

I think someone (one of the national bicycle coalitions?) should put together a quick marketing campaign that we can implement on the local level. We need to have smart, soundbite-ish answers for helping transition people out of their cars and onto their bikes. We need to do a much better job of talking up the real economic benefits of dropping your car. We can go after two-car families first, and we can appeal to what people hate most: dropping $40 or more at the gas station every week. We need to get people’s attention and say this:

We know things are rough. And we think we can help. Really. You see, you probably think it’s only those people in spandex and teenage kids who ride bikes, but it’s not. More people are riding bikes every day. They ride their bikes to work, to school, to the grocery store, wherever. And check this out. Go buy a bike and ride it to work one day a week; each Friday, give your car the day off. (It’s usually a dress-down day, anyway. You’ll love it.) Do that for six months, and the bike and any gear you got with it have paid for themselves! And you just lost that ten pounds you’ve been trying to get rid of forever. Trust me. It will be the best decision of your life.

We should all tighten up our marketing message and when the media outlets come calling, we’ll be prepared. I’m afraid that we’ll be talking about global warming when most people will want to be reassured about the safety of riding their bike. Or that we’ll be talking about how evil cars are instead of how much money it’s possible to save by riding your bike. (And it’d be nice if we could put concrete figures and calculations to our claims and open them up for scrutiny). We need to have our 10-second, 30-second, and 2-minute elevator pitches ready. And we need to be consistent. What I’m arguing for is a bit of media savvy. I think it can make a big difference to any campaign.

An Austin area church did some marketing Sunday morning when it held church outside and guaranteed a price of $2.49 per gallon of gas at a local gas station. Pretty cool stuff. I’m not suggesting that us cyclists have the money to do something like that, but could we not be as creative? Could we band together and come up with a contest to convert one or three drivers to cyclists by, say, providing them with fully-equipped commuter bikes (rack, lights, etc.), a training class, a discounted car sharing membership, a bikepooling buddy for their first two months, and finding them a good, safe route from their home to their work? I think we could do it, and we could do it well. We’d have to be careful not to come off wrong (arrogant, conceited, or superior), since I suspect lots of drivers have negative impressions of cyclists and cycling. But I know we could do it and wind up with people falling in love with cyclists and cycling. Bike Month might be a great time for such a publicity stunt.

And here’s the thing: we’re not offering a temporary fix. This is not a one-day affair. We’re gonna get you into better shape financially and physically, and we will have helped you change your life for the better permanently.

Further, it’s not like we have to sell umbrellas in the middle of the Sahara. We are selling what might be the closest thing to the fountain of youth and prosperity that the world has ever known. Maybe that’s a little lofty, but still, you get the point.  :)

Some folks in Portland run the Breakfast on the Bridges fun. You really can’t call it a program because, to me, that label would not do it justice. The type of imagination and humanity embedded in events like this suggest a whole new way to think about your commute, your relationship to others, and your life. Yeah, you still have to get to the office, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hang out for a few minutes looking at some beautiful scenery and enjoying a coffee and a chat in the outdoors before you get to the office?

We should be bold enough to propose big ideas, participate in bold initiatives, etc. It is possible that a Level 5 effort over the next six months to a year could be more important than a Level 9 effort for the following five years. It is possible that you might just find out that there is political and popular support for an idea that would have been considered outrageous just six months ago (such as bike highways?). So, go ahead and propose it.

There’s also a word of warning, here. Lots of people are going to push for anything that lets them get to tomorrow, even if it’s a new 12-lane autos-only highway or some other monstrosity. There won’t be any logic or coherence to the arguments. Instead, any objections will be explained away by the people who stand to make boatloads of money from the projects. We need to be prepared to respond with proper rejections of unsound development, and be able to offer good alternatives.
:)

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Bicycle Highways

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

That’s what I want for Austin and for every city and town in every country in the world. Having bicycle facilities that are separated from cars and trucks could help to increase bicycle use dramatically. How much, you ask? 500% in a year? 1000%? It’s possible. But we need the infrastructure.

What exactly is a “bicycle highway”? I can’t say I’m sure. I don’t even know if people really use the term. But in my mind, a bicycle highway is just that-a highway for bikes. Pretty simple. We have highways for cars and trucks, so why not create highways for bikes?

America, at least (and we have reports coming in on the McMansion/Suburban Sprawl-ization of developing countries like China), has suburbs that are pretty far away from urban work centers. Residents of these suburbs need a sustainable, future-proof way to get to work. Car-and-truck-only highways aren’t going to cut it. I’ve seen at least one study that says new highways reach capacity within five years of being built. To continue building new auto highways is to fight a losing battle. We need to do better, and we need to do something differently. Giving people a sustainable way to get to work is a great first step. People can and will bicycle ten or twenty miles to work each way. Just give them the facilities and watch it happen.

If cars can have incredible amounts of space and facilities and money and resources dedicated to them, why shouldn’t bicycles? Below is an artist’s rendition of what a bicycle highway system for Austin might look like:

Austin Bike Highway Map?

This StreetFilms video talks about the importance of separated bicycle facilities:

I was reminded of bicycle highways when I found out about the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign and their tour of the Atlanta Beltline (video).

Austin will soon decide what types of rail lines it may ultimately implement. I’m all for mass transit, but I can’t say I feel particularly strongly about rail lines running at street level; I’d prefer if we started with bikeways (or greenways or bike highways-whatever you want to call them).

Then someone emailed and let me know about the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway (wiki).

Here in Austin we have the Lance Armstrong Bikeway project.

These are all steps in the right direction. I feel that 90%+ of all future funding for transportation should be spent on non-automobile infrastructure: bikeways, walkways, mass transit, and so forth. I don’t believe that spending any more money on car transportation can be justified. As I said yesterday, not one more dollar to car culture.

p.s. wow.

…looks like Toronto may be having a transit strike. So, they disallowed a bunch of on-street parking, are promoting car-pooling, and allowed for a couple of very small ‘bicycle highways’. Not sure what to say about that.

Bicycles…

April 24, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Helping extra-terrestrials get home since 1982:

E.T. will be proud of Google once they complete this feature request. :)

Not one more dollar to car culture

April 24, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I’ve been meaning to post this forever, and now I’m a couple days late, but better late than never.

Spacing Toronto tells us about a cool petition-the petition is not a piece of paper, but a car!

The project was put together by a crew called Streets Are for People. This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long, long time. It goes to show the creative things people can come up with when they get together.

See? Cars aren’t completely useless. :)

Traffic Crushing São Paulo

April 21, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: City Spotlight

Planetizen points us to an article in the International Herald Tribune about the disaster that is modern day traffic. This particular story describes São Paulo, Brazil (map) (wiki):

FIGHTS, SHOOTINGS

Local newspapers are littered with chronicles of shootings and fist fights over traffic disputes. Hold-ups in bottlenecks are common. And last month, a disgruntled commuter slashed the tires of a bus because it was full and was almost lynched by passengers before police intervened.

“It’s a nightmare. It’s getting to the point where I can’t take the stress anymore,” said Geralda Aparecida Mendes, a cleaning lady who takes three buses to work every day.

The traffic woes are also a drag on the economy. In a recent study, Sao Paulo state’s transportation secretariat estimated the gridlock costs the city’s economy at least 4.1 billion reais (1.2 billion pounds) a year in lost productivity.

It turns out that traffic is not just about smog and asthma and wasting time sitting in traffic and economic slowdowns and all that fun stuff-it’s also about violence and destruction of property and road rage and robbery and pushing people towards nervous breakdowns. In short, traffic is anti-human.

The people of São Paulo need to look at every conceivable option to mitigate these problems. My vote? Bike paths.

I would like to see some bang-for-the-buck studies on building bike lanes vs. building more/bigger auto roads/bridges/highways, but I can imagine that folks would love the thought of a peaceful ride into work instead of being packed like sardines into a bus or train.

I lived in Reston, Virginia (map) (wiki) for a bit (a western suburb of DC), and they have an awesome rail trail: the Washington & Old Dominion trail. It can take you from some of the nicest suburban towns on the west side of DC to just about into DC itself. It won’t quite get you all the way into downtown DC, but you could navigate your way in or jump on the Metro. When I lived there, the trail often seemed to get a decent bit of traffic (especially on weekends), but now with gas prices skyrocketing and traffic generally growing worse in every metro area in the country, I suspect this trail might be seeing more use than usual. If anyone would know about (bicycle) traffic on the trail these days, it’d be WABA or RBC. Point being, I’d like to see rail trails be an option for any city struggling with traffic problems. This might be an area for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Every time I think of traffic and cities, I’m reminded of Buffalo, New York (map) (wiki)-the city best known for Buffalo Wings and benching Doug Flutie. ;) I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but was there long enough to realize that driving around town (and back and forth to Niagara Falls and Orchard Park) wasn’t that difficult; there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of traffic. It definitely made an big impact on me. I wonder if it’s still like that?

The Pedaling History Bicycle Museum is in Buffalo. The city seems to have a Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Board and some racing-oriented clubs, but I wasn’t able to find an advocacy-oriented group. Did I miss them?

They do have a bike lending-type program called Buffalo Blue, a pedicab company called The Buffalo Bike Taxi Co., and at least one intrepid bike commuter. SUNY-Buffalo does some biking stuff and UB Green seems to be involved a bit.

what_if_you_could_bike.jpgSydney, Australia (map) (wiki) is working on dedicated bike paths and a full-blown integrated bicycle network with their Sustainable Sydney program. I can’t imagine how much more beautiful Sydney is going to be when they finish this project. The city is already unbearably nice in lots of areas.

The picture to the right comes from the SydneyCyclist.com forums, and it is part of a new media campaign by the City of Sydney. This particular poster focuses on safety, which happens to be the primary/initiating focus of this petition. The poster advertisement says:

What if you could safely ride your bike instead of your luck?

The reaction of one cyclist to that photo is pretty funny and, I think, indicative of what is going on:

OK, that’s it. Forget whatever I’ve said about Clover Moore in the past, Clover Moore for Premier I say
Wow, things are really happening. (thank God for the Climate Change movement).

The bold is the commenter’s original formatting, not mine. I think it’s fair to say that Clover Moore has won herself a new fan. The part I like best about this comment is the “Wow, things are really happening” statement. It’s true: things are definitely happening. Even the grizzled veterans are becoming convinced, it seems. I have no doubt that there was a tremendous amount of effort in Sydney by all sorts of people to get this initiative going. Congrats to them.

Some social research on cycling done by Sydney talks about “potential cyclists” and says:

Safety concerns, high levels of traffic and lack of cycling infrastructure are the current barriers to them cycling

In other words, “if you build it, they will come” (ref).

Bicycle NSW (NSW = the state of New South Wales) seems to be the main advocacy group in/around Sydney.

I also like the idea that bicycling seems to help different constituencies form natural coalitions. The Sydney commenter said-somewhat but not completely in jest-”thank God for the Climate Change movement.” I think this is important because it makes it crystal clear for us (if it wasn’t clear enough) that bicycle advocates and environmental advocates need to work together. It is actually possible to form coalitions of groups who have little-to-no interest in each other’s proposals and work, but in this particular situation, many of our goals are actually the same. Environmentalists and cycling advocates may have different reasons for wanting more/better bicycle infrastructure, but they share that same real goal.

Of course, everyone is busy, but there may still be very easy, low-cost ways to work together. An example?

Maybe leaders of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Texas Bicycle Coalition could agree to a sit-down lunch (everyone’s got to eat, right?) once a month. And what would they do at this lunch? Talk about the things they’re trying to get done, learn from each other, and figure out if they can help each other.

Using these state-level organizations is just an example; any group can and should try to work with any other group.

Boston wants in on the bike lanes act, too. Thanks to the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition for the good work they’re doing up there.

One Million Bicycles

Urbana-Champaign Bicycle Commute let us know about the 1,000,000 Bicyclists Campaign (website not live until May 1, 2008), via BikePortland.org.

Planetizen, our lead-off into this rambling post, is:

a public-interest information exchange provided by Urban Insight for the urban planning, design, and development community. It is a one-stop source for urban planning news, commentary, interviews, event coverage, book reviews, announcements, jobs, consultant listings, training, and more.

Go check ‘em out!

Finally, maybe the lesson of São Paulo is, “Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

[Website note: We pulled the Forums because they don't work with the latest version of WordPress (2.5)--the free software that runs this website. If folks think we could use some real forums, just holler, and we'll drop in something a bit more industrial strength. :) ]

Atlanta Bicycle Campaign

April 18, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy, Bike Group

In my job hunting, I’ve been checking out a bunch of towns online - either for the first time, or to re-familiarizing myself with some place I may have lived previously. I used to live in Atlanta (wiki) a loooong time ago.

Atlanta is a good town, and I have some very good friends there. Home to such fan favorites as The Weather Channel, ‘the ATL’ (aka ‘Hotlanta’, ‘The City Too Busy to Hate’, ‘The Black Mecca’, ‘A-town’, etc.) was responsible for introducing me to R&B (Brian McKnight, 112, Usher, Dru Hill, etc.), and I’ll be forever grateful (“It’s 6 o’clock, 6 o’clock - time for Greg Street to rock!”).

I thought, ‘I wonder if Atlanta has some kind of bike group?’

So I googled ‘atlanta bicycle coalition‘ and what do ya know — a group called Atlanta Bicycle Campaign (ABC) that looks to be very active popped up. I’m proud of you, Atlanta! <sniffle>

Almost 600 strong? Wow. That’s no small feat for a town like Atlanta, or any other car-obsessed town - which is most towns in America.

ABC has a rockin website - which I think is awesome. Even if you happen to be or have folks around you who know ‘web stuff’, it can still be difficult to get the right setup - to get the right set of tools to ‘put yourself in a position to win’ - a favorite phrase of coaches everywhere.

I immediately noticed this blog post - CNN is going to air a segment on rising gas prices and bicycling, and they wanted to talk to the local experts, so ABC obliged them:

ABC staff members and cycling instructors spent 2 hours with CNN International reporter, Ralitsa Vassileva - pictured right speaking with our Executive Director, Rebecca Serna - shooting film and recording interviews for a story about how the American public is responding to rising gas prices, in part, by turning to bicycling as an alternate form of transportation and how ABC is helping people who want to do so overcome their doubts and learn to cycle confidently on city streets.

Looks like the story will air the weekend of April 26-27. (That would be Comcast channel #206 in Atlanta.) We’ll keep you posted about the details as they are shared with us. The back story of how this all came together is interesting in and of itself.

Very cool stuff!

So make sure to drop ABC’s RSS feed into your rotation, and/or sign up for their e-newsletter.

CNN (wiki) is headquartered in Atlanta, so maybe it just makes sense for them to go out and find some locals when they need to do a ‘human/local’ story?

Atlanta has a bunch of other interesting things to see, places to go, etc. - which kinda reminds me of something I’ve been interested in - getting bicycle tours going in various cities and towns, or just getting them the attention they deserve. I understand that there are some folks who are just unable to ride a bike for various reasons, but for the great majority of people, I believe a bike tour is possible, and it will become the new best way to see a city because once people try it, they’ll love it, and they’ll do it in every town they visit. I was thinking about this the other day when I was cruising around Austin - there were so many cool little neighborhoods and landmarks that I passed by, and I wasn’t even trying - I just happened to be on a bike, so I could just cruise around and just meander, and stopping and starting again is no big deal. Lots of big cities thrive on tourism, and I see a lot of synergies between tourism, businesses, and bikes. I don’t know if there’s a ‘process’ for how to go about working on things like this - it’s probably just taking care of the obvious stuff - contact the Chamber of Commerce - let them know we exist, contact local tour operators (be they bike, walking, bus, whatever) - things like that.

I think that this exact point in time - right now - is crucial for bicycle advocacy. We can sit back and still see gains in bicycling infrastructure and funding and membership rolls and maybe even some changes in the law books to help protect us on the roads a bit better — or we can recognize the opportunity we have before us and really have a go. From the great movie Chariots of Fire, I’m reminded of the phrase, “seize this chance, rejoice in it, and let no power or persuasion deter you in your task“. This is the mindset I believe we should all have. And without conflating causes (though, I think there are important parallels), I’m reminded of the phrase ‘Now is the time‘ (at 5:15) from someone who did a lot of work himself in Atlanta, Martin Luther King.

…made some typo corrections. Man, this blog really needs an editor (as do many blogs). Sorry!

The Importance of Good Urban Design

April 16, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy, Urban Design

the_national_automobile_slum.pngI mentioned in a previous post that I would revisit ‘urban design’ as a topic — that was primarily because I saw this video from James Howard Kunstler, entitled ‘The tragedy of suburbia’.

[NSFW - Not Safe For Work: Be warned - the video delivers a few curse words.]

The image seen here is the opening slide of Kunstler’s address - the slide is titled “The National Automobile Slum” (interesting that BMW sponsors TED). Kunstler starts his talk with the following:

The immersive ugliness of our everyday environments in America is entropy made visible. We can’t overestimate the amount of despair that we are generating with places like this. And, mostly I want to persuade you that we have to do better if we’re going to continue the project of civilization in America.

Strong words. And you definitely get the sense that Kunstler is angry. I know that I am angry.

The idea is not to pick on suburbia, per se (and I’ve often lived in suburbs, including the place I lived before Austin — Palo Alto, California), but to point out what I think is a great video. I don’t agree with all the sentiments expressed therein, but I think Kunstler’s main point is correct - we need to do better.

To me, bicycling is a crucial step in the re-making of our world, but it’s not the only step. So after we get bicycle directions on Google Maps, we’re going to want to continue to take steps to make the places we live nicer places to be. The more each of us knows about the principles of good urban design, the better off all of our communities will be. We won’t have to be such watchdogs for urban design because everyone will know the basics - might be a bit of a pipe dream, but I imagine it could be done. I’d like to see a more widespread teaching of urban design principles - starting in elementary school, even - so that we reach non-cyclists and non-advocates, too. The more folks who know the basics of good urban design, the less chance we’ll get stuck with poorly-planned town centers, car-only roadways, lack of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, etc.

Majora Carter has a very good presentation, too, as does Jaime Lerner. And don’t forget to watch the presentation by the founder of Zipcar, the car-sharing service, Robin Chase (check out here new ride-sharing/carpooling startup, GoLoco, too). I’m sure there are plenty of other good bicycle/transportation/green TED Talks that I didn’t point out here, so if you know of any we missed, please let us know in the comments.

…there’s another important part of Kunstler’s presentation that I wanted to point out:

We’re gonna have to change this behavior whether we like it or not. We are entering an epochal period of change in the world, and certainly in America. The period that will be characterized by the end of the cheap oil era. It is going to change absolutely everything. Chris asked me not to go on too long about this and I won’t. Except to say, there’s not gonna be a hydrogen economy. Forget it. It’s not gonna happen. We’re gonna have to do something else, instead. We’re gonna have to downscale, rescale, and resize virtually everything we do in this country — and we can’t start soon enough to do it. We’re gonna have to live closer to where we work. We’re gonna have to live closer to each other. We’re gonna have to grow more food closer to where we live. The age of the 3,000 mile Ceasar Salad is coming to an end.

Bicycling can be a boon for all of us because it can be beneficial to so many different people and causes and end goals. For instance, if you are a greenie, you probably know all about the slow food, CSA, and community gardens movements. These movements, along with the bicycling movement (implicitly), have to do with moving things closer together - exactly as Kunstler talks about. We need to be sure, as advocates of bicycling/pedestrians/local food/etc., that we reach out to each other and work together to achieve our goals. Send some emails, make some phone calls, attend some meetings to organizations you don’t belong to, and let’s see how we can help each other.

Tonight I stopped by the monthly Austin Flyers social (thanks, y’all!) at Mandola’s Italian Market (good food!) at The Triangle (map). The Triangle (which gets its name from the shape of the roads around it) is a mixed-use development with apartments, retail stores, restaurants, and a park. Cruising by tonight (on my Fuji Roubaix), I noticed the Austin Farmers’ Market (run by the Sustainable Food Center) was in full effect - man, it looked cool. There seemed to be lots of people, local farmers and food and veggies and all that, live music, some street vendors, and kids and dogs running around everywhere - a very cool scene. This market I saw is actually the second location — this one runs on Wednesday evenings, and the main one is downtown on Saturday mornings. The Triangle is about 4 miles north of downtown.

Kunstler mentions New Urbanism - essentially, a body of knowledge concerned with retrofitting poorly-designed urban areas - which is an unfortunate necessity for too much of America. Kunstler goes on to say more about ‘localization’:

We got a lot of work to do. We’re not gonna be rescued by the hypercar. We’re not gonna be rescued by alternative fuels. No amount, or combination of alternative fuels, is going allow us to continue running what we’re running, the way we’re running it. We’re gonna have to do everything very differently. And america is not prepared. We are sleepwalking into the future. We’re not ready for what’s coming at us. So I urge you all to do what you can. Life in the mid-21st century is gonna to be all about living locally. Be prepared to be good neighbors. Be prepared to be find vocations that make you useful to your neighbors and to your fellow citizens.

I thought the ‘vocations’ part was particularly important because I feel like many of us - especially in the white collar world - have little to no vocational experience. That is, take away our computers and we’re effectively useless if you need any type of skilled labor. I can’t build a house, fix a car, plant a garden, cook, etc. I can now change a flat on my bicycle - so that’s a start, and I can and have and will continue to provide physical labor to lots of efforts that can use it, but I’m still not that useful. I want to learn a real vocation so I can do my part. There are tens of millions of people like me. I don’t fear for us - humans are enterprising - we’ll learn and do what we need to do, but I like the idea of telling folks, “Hey - learn to do something useful - there is real value in being able to do things for yourself and your community”.

The DIY (Do It Yourself) movement continues to pick up steam for a lot of the same reasons all of these other movements continue to do so. The Austin Yellow Bike Project seems to me to have a DIY-type philosophy. I think one of the things that people value about doing things themselves is that when they’re done, they actually have a piece of work, a meal, a vegetable, a building, a bike - something tangible. Even sectors of the service industry can provide some fulfillment - fixing a bicycle, for instance. I think a lot of the computer work we do is just not fulfilling - and people aren’t meant to spend all day sitting in front of a computer, getting fat. OK - enough of the ‘society’ rant. :)

I see bicycling as the primary linking mechanism between all of the movements that are going to help us get to a better world - bicycling is very much the key to making good progress in ‘downscaling, rescaling, and resizing’. And it’s just my opinion, of course. :)

…Another note - the part where Kunstler mentions that we can’t expect to be ‘rescued’ by ‘the hypercar’ or ‘alternative fuels’ - I think it’s either true or true enough. Why is that important? Well, lots of people still think that something will save us - maybe technology. John Doerr is a venture capitalist at the premiere VC firm in the Valley. His firm invested in many of the top computer companies in the world - including Google. In March 2007, Doerr gave a presentation at TED titled “Seeking salvation and profit in greentech“. So, they even have a term for technology that will save us — greentech (short for ‘green technology’). That’s fine - I wish them well - we’ll need all the help we can get - but I think we should do our best to point out to folks - VCs and others - that it may just be non-technology that ‘rescues’ us - things like bicycle lanes, community gardens, and other ‘localization’ paradigms. Doerr mentions in his talk that he thinks it’s stupid to drive a car just to go a short distance, maybe to the grocery store, but then he talks up biofuel initiatives. He states plainly that he doesn’t think people will want to sacrifice enough - change their lifestyles enough - to help stave off the worst effects of global climate change. I disagree.

And I think many of you would disagree with Mr. Doerr, too.

And I think the question - “Are people willing to sacrifice enough?” - is misleading. Is riding a bicycle a sacrifice? Not for me. Is getting healthier and having fun and enjoying being in the fresh morning air and the warm afternoon sun a sacrifice?

I feel great when I walk someplace, and I feel great when I ride somewhere. Riding my bike is usually the highlight of my day. I don’t have to convince myself that I like it - I actually do like it. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that I love it. I think we need to be proactive in knocking down false platitudes that are just taken to be truisms, when in fact they are not. Ever heard, “People love their cars”, or “People will never give up their cars”? I say, bul…..poppycock! :)

I say:

People love walking and riding and fresh air and nature and exercise and camaraderie and feeling alive. If they so much as get the smallest sense that it’d be possible to give up their cars for even one day a week, they’d jump at the chance and never look back.

Take that!

And I think it’s true. Lots of people would love to ditch their cars - they just can’t for various reasons (bicycling looks prohibitively dangerous; too far from work; etc.). As cycling/pedestrian/mass transit advocates, we need to bring the narrative of enjoyment and exercise and nature and connectedness and community to our cause. Save the polar bears and the human race? Yes - it’s true, but it’s this very abstract thing for most people. Exercise is not. Fresh air is not. Self-reliance is not. Saving money is not. These are all powerful ideas that people will readily identify with.

Whether you believe that Jevons Paradox is real or not (more), I want to argue that car culture sucks, and we can do better. If tomorrow someone managed to invent the perfect fuel - for cars, for factories, etc. - I would have mixed emotions. The world would be saved from pollution and global climate change, but this movement to create local places that would make us happy would be destroyed. To me, that would be a terrible loss.

better_off_flipping_the_switch_on_technology.jpgGoing back to DIY culture - just to make this post even longer - I just thought of a book that I read called Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. The Google Books link gives us this:

What happens when a graduate of MIT, the bastion of technological advancement, and his bride move to a community so primitive in its technology that even Amish groups consider it antiquated? Eric Brende conceives a real-life experiment: to see if, in fact, all our cell phones, wide-screen TVs, and SUVs have made life easier and better — or whether life would be preferable without them. …

Good book. It might just be worth your attention. :)

Portland Bicycling on Democracy Now!

April 16, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

dn_banner_small.gifDemocracy Now!, the best news program in existence, hosted a segment today on Portland and its notoriously awesome bicycle culture. If you’re not into RealVideo format, you can start watching at 48:20 of the Flash-based format (you can also just download the audio/video). If you start at 46:20 (two minutes earlier), you’ll get to hear from Queen - their ‘Bicycle Race’ song is ridiculously cool. :) (lyrics and video)

On the show, we hear from Elly Blue, bicycle activist and part-time contributor to BikePortland.org. She’s helping to organize the Towards Carfree Cities Conference in June this year, in Portland.

The other guest, Scott Bricker, is the Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the main bicycle advocacy organization for Oregon, Portland, and southern Washington State (near Portland). [The other Scott Bricker heads the Bike Pittsburgh organization. All you bike advocacy folks out there - check out Bike Pittsburgh's fun and innovative website - if you want to make yourself more visible and appealing to younger cyclists/would-be cyclists/advocates/volunteers, this is a great way to do it!]

We see a clip from the Streetsblog video, Portland: Celebrating America’s Most Livable City.

Elly mentions Ciclovía (wiki) - widely popularized here in America when StreetsBlog ran a short video presentation on the movement. Specifically, Elly mentioned that the Carfree Cities Conference (its first time in North America) would have Enrique ‘Gil’ Peñalosa presenting (I think Mr. Peñalosa may have a few other first/colloquial names as well). The Carfree Cities Conference is a project of the World Carfree Network.

And, as if this wasn’t enough good news for one day, have a look at a video of Chicago cycling. I’m extremely happy for Portland, because their success makes it that much easier for the rest of us to follow suit, and I’m also happy that people in cities all over the world are not content to let Amsterdam and Portland hold that ‘Best Bicycle Towns’ crown without being challenged. :)

One thing that I thought was interesting that I didn’t know before was this 1970s Portland ordinance that required any new development to make accommodations for bicycling (if anyone knows where we can get details on that, I’d be much obliged!). I believe a lot of folks - myself included up until not too long ago - think that small changes to laws don’t really have a big effect. That Portland is now at least one of the premiere bicycling towns in America is a strong testament to the effectiveness - especially long-term - of seemingly-small changes in law. Incremental progress is important. Many of us woud like a full-scale bicycle and pedestrian revolution, but small victories can be just as important.

p.s. I think the DN! ‘Get Involved‘ tab is the best example I’ve ever seen of how to let people get involved in your cause.

Signature Comments

April 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Below are comments from signatures 31,000 down to 30,000 - so this is reverse chronological order. Not everyone leaves a comment, so of these 1,000 signatures, about a quarter of folks left comments (about 270 comments):

Getting There Is ALL The Fun
hell yes!!
please show biker luv!!!!!
would be very helpful, I’d use it quite a lot
Bike There!!!
Please?
mtb tracks would be great
great idea, have been waiting for such a capability for some time.
This would be an excellent way forward and encourage more people to cycle to destinations
Would enable greater bike advertising sales
In the Netherlands there are plenty of possibilities to drive somewhere by bike, but not one serious bike travel planner!
It’s time. If not now, when? Please consider the benefits. I love Google. Be the love.
let’s encourage active and clean forms of transportation!
This would rock
persion golf
I am currently a stockholder of Google, Inc.
Ask input from experienced bikers. I have great commutes!
its about time
Yes please!
please upload Bike There!
GREAT idea!!!!
Also check out http://therightride.org/ for a GoogleMaps-based feature for the Boston, MA area.
this is a spectacular idea.
Also, add WALK THERE FEATURE!
You should also make it available in England.
Oh, oh, that would be soo fantastic. It can be scary taking car specific routes on a bicycle. Scary as in dangerous, as in potentially deadly. And I’m not being hyperbolic. I love the Google, and I will love it even MORE if you add a Bike There feature.
Let’s clean up the air!!
This is a great idea. I was thinking of creating a website to do just this, however, google already has a large database and infrastructure setup.
The bike route option would work perfectly in Charlottesville.
Google, I love you! Please do this!
Cyclists and motorists have different needs. Without recognising this, Google Maps is misleading to useless. Shorter routes are more available on a bike, and more desirable, particularly to the casual cyclist.
horray bike there
I have been hoping for something like this.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!
Please do this!
Cycling is the answer: fun, challenging,community-oriented, and no almost no CO2.
this would be so great!
This would Help me plan out my commute and other rides tremendously! btw…love your products and everything else you do.
This would be great
It will be used weekly!
Please, pretty please.
Bicycles are happiness and sunshine
Go Google!! Save the planet
please, please, do it
go google!
It would go a long way towards making things safer for cyclists
please !!!
I have often wanted Google to have pedestrian directions. Great move!
This would benefit a city like austin (weird disconnects with post-war city and massive highways cutting off logically connected routes)
I would ride more if I knew how to get there!
This is a smashing idea, all for it!
yea.
as a bike-everywhere gal (I’m car-free) this would be a godsend.
This would be a incredibly useful & “clickable” resource to add
bikes rule
Great idea.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is already working on this. I hope they are!
Google is supposedly “green.” This would help.
I sent a similiar suggestion in last year!
Please make this feature! It would save a lot of us from getting crushed on overpasses!
A good idea!
I think it would be neat to make it an open access community project, a route wiki or something like that.
I can’t say enough nice things about everything you guys have already done, so I feel a little bad about asking for more. But, you have to admit, the bike thing would be pretty damn cool.
account for terrain, too, please
Safe Cycle Routes avoiding major Roads should be provided all over Southampton , utilising Southampton Common as much as possible as it would improve safety for all and ease conjestion on the Avenue
Go Google!
Great tool to have!
Great Idea
this would be awesome!
This would be yet another reason to use Google!
Hurray for a great idea!
Make it so!
What a great way to encourage less fuel usage AND better health habits!
Bike on!!
Great Idea!
Great Idea!
This is a FANTASTIC idea!
“Avoid Hwys” is not enough - a bike aware choice would be wonderful.
I would LOVE a bike there option!
this is a wonderful idea!
This would be a great contribution to creating a biker friendly USA.
A first-class idea.
do it suckas!
Adam love bike!
brilliant! do it
Would make your services even better!
Please do this!
yes please!
great idea
Great idea
Great idea
Go bikes
please help us cyclists!!
I was just thinking about how awesome this would be the other day.
I would love to use Google maps to find a bike route!
I am particularly interested in finding bike routes that not shared with automobiles.
This is an important way to help save the earth
We need this!
RIDE ON!!!
please consider, what a great concept/idea
Please have biking directions an option!
PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Please.
Let it be so! Screw the gas company!
PLEASE!!!
i think it would really encourage people to ride more if they knew the safest way to get there!
This is a great idea that would help so many and compliment your site and it’s business.
BIKES BIKES BIKES!!!
A GREAT IDEA… 100\% !!!!!!
Yes, let’s make it as easy as possible to use human powered transportation
Go greener, be even better!! You have the power!
Bicycles: the greatest thing man has ever done.
Currently, bike paths are painfully missing from you wonderful Web Service - Please make the world safer and add these valuable transportation corridors
Great idea
This idea would be great.
Even allowing reverse travel on one-way roads would be a good first step. That’s often all you need…
pretty please
ahh go on
Also have a ‘walk there’ option - in areas with lots of one-way streets,, parks etc. ‘walk there’ wojuld give much different directions than ‘drive’.
This would also help point out city bike lane flaws!
Bike there would be the best feature ever!
This would be a really helpful feature for those of us using Google Maps from the iPhone
YES
please add a “bike there” feature to maps.
What an option it would be!
NYC future bike city of the universe!
This would be GREAT!
this would (indirectly) go a long way to promote better lifestyles and lower the environment impact of motor vehicles
not sure about the “petition language,” so please consider this respectfully submitted
This is a great idea!
Please, oh, Please!
This would be a fantastic feature!!!! Support the world!
I think this is a nifty idea, and I think that it fits with Google’s green model. I would suggest that folks look into using Google’s own feedback system to request the feature as well. They do seem to take that to heart.
Thank you for considering this addition to Google maps
This would be fantastic!
This is a great idea.
I think this is a great idea…it would be great to have it also have the most efficient route possible…i.e. balancing making extra right turns instead of left turns…
Pleeeeeease!
Bike There! Please, this city is bike dangerous!
Great Idea!
I use Google Maps quite often, a Bike There feature would be a great help!
This will mean more bike miles and fewer car miles for lots of folks. Please do this ASAP. Thanks!
There are other modes of transportation other than car.
Bike no evil !
Would love to commute on my bike
In a city like London, knowing where to find the routes ‘off the beaten track’ would be a fantastic idea. Transport for London already has an excellent set of maos that could be integrated into the gmaps database - I’m sure!
Please do it!
It’ll be nice
A common sense idea
Would be a great help esp when biking new areas / cities
Don’t be evil…
car free for five years
Bike Routes would be AWESOME!!!!
I want to bike there!
yes!
would be a cool feature
Use help from map readers the way you do now to make a bike route map great!
This would be used, appreciated and is needed.
Saving the planet, one step at a time.
yeah bird
This is a fabulous idea! Please add the “Bike There” option!
also, tell if bike paths are paved for wheelchair access
Please and Thanks!
Agree entirely with this notion. Google is perfectly suited to provide this offering and would not only fit their alterior motives of fighting climate change, but continue to provide in a way that no other web mapping site does.
I’m a big car fan. So I’m keen to clear the roads :)
like, yesterday
Yes please!
Way to go
NYC is Bike Town !
Please, we NEEED this, what an opportunity for Google!
I commute daily on my bicycle - this would be incredibly useful.
it would be sooooo useful!
What a great initative
There are a lot of bike lanes in town. This would be super-useful for finding them all in one place. Can the search also take into account gradations?
Public Tranportation doesn’t get more carbon neutral than a bike!
Do it! Do it!
Please please please!!!
please make this option available
this is not only necessary as an alternative to pollution causing vehicle traffic, but as a way to encourage exercise as part of healthy living
A combo of bike and transit, i.e. bike to here, take the L train, then bike here, would be a great feature too. That may be asking too much but Google can do anything can’t they?
This is a great idea, I’d use it all the time.
This would be awesome…there are tons of trails in Seattle commuters use and could peak interest for others to start commuting by bike!
yes! If you can put a picture of my house on google, you can add bike routes. please!
Do it!
Yeah, come on!
I use Google Maps frequently. The “Drive” route provided is often not a good option for bicycles. I do not own a car, so this would make Google Maps far more useful to me.
Please google- this would be great!
I’ve wanted this for quite some time.
I’m one of many people who would prefer to bike to my destinations, but am never certain of the quickest and safest routes. This would prove to be extremely helpful!
Would be a great feature!
I’ll help do it. I’d love to get sweaty for this!
thanks for this, great thought
I’ve wanted this for a while nice to see that others want this too.
This would be a great idea to add to Google
Please!
I have wanted this feature forever!
We need to get more people bicycling to get around.
While Jacksonville isn’t exactly the most bike friendly city, a “bike it” feature on google maps would be a huge help!
Yay for biking! This would be a great next step for google.
Seattle This would be awsome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Comité circulation du Plateau Mont-Royal
Do it.
what a great use of your technology and gift to the planet
As a cyclist I think this would be a great feature!
Thanks, Peter! Brilliant!
do good
I use Google Maps 3 time a week minuimum.
Yes, please. I would use this service often!
great idea
Do no evil; spread love on two wheels!
would love to see transit/bike routes!
please! thank you!
It would be much easier to use my bike and ease congestion if there was an easier way to find routes.
This is too cool not to do!!!!
great idea and about time
Lead the charge!
What an excellent idea. Lower CO2 emission and ease traffic congestion. Also, a ‘slam dunk’ from a business value perspective since the maps will retain and attract.users.
This would make Google Maps even better!
This would be a very useful feature!
Thanks for your consideration
I support a bike here feature..
I totally agree with this.
soon please!
Great idea
I have wanted a route to ride to work and have not been able to come up with one. This would help me put one together
This would be great! ByCycle.org already has increased my ability to bike around town with my daughter!
Please do this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I ride my bike as often as possible…and that feature would be awesome…especially when I’m in a new area!
Please!
I generally prefer Google products, so having a “Bike There” feature would definitely be useful for me.
seattle thanks for your consideration
thank you
Would LOVE a BIKE THERE feature!!!!!
This would be a very helpful feature and will encourage more people to change their life styles in an environmentally friendly fashion.
yea! bike lanes! want to see them on Google maps!
Thanks for considering this very useful biking option.
This would be a very useful feature for bike commuters and recreationalists.
Much needed service!
great idea. Ashland and Jackson County have the Bear Creek Greenway, city of Ashland has a bike path and bike lanes throughout town.
Would be great for Safe routes to school
Help encourage more biking in the USA!
do the right thing!
I would love a bicycle mapping feature. This would be an invaluable tool.
I use your website all the time for driving directions and maps. It would be wonderful to be able to do the same for my bicycling.
wonderful idea
Make “do” with current maps but they are not always accurate or useful when cycling. THANK YOU
Please show route information like: incline steepness, bike lanes, etc
Excellent idea!
Great Idea!
This is a great idea
This would be super useful to the growing number of cyclists around the world…
This is a noble effort
C’mon Google…
Include bike parking info, too!
This can be part of Google’s climate change commitment
awesome
That would be sweet!
Suggested this to them with no response so far….
i bike where ever i can and feel this would dramatically improve and vary my rides
I would definitely use this!!!
all outdoor paths, trails, etc. would be wonderful!
yeah…this is where it’s at!
please!
Seattle likes bikes!
good initiative
Whoop Microsoft’s sorry _ss!
i need this feature!
Bike path feature would bring more users to Google Maps, I’m sure.
this is something the “global warming” preachers should be pushing more of

This has been another the first daily dose of…….a whole lot of comments all together next to each other just to see what they look like. :)

[p.s. The last line, as many of you know, is a play on the words from Copenhagen Cycle Chic - they seem to only show up in the RSS feed - "Another daily dose of Copenhagen Cycle Chic."]

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