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Archive for June, 2011

Hangzhou Bike Share Provides Medical Insurance

June 28, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Update: Joan Valls Fantova, president of, lets us know that Barcelona’s Bicing Bicycle Share System also provides insurance — not only to the rider and property, but also covers any third party person/property involved in a collision/accident. A Google translation of the FAQ page says:

Bizi has some kind of insurance?

Yes, there is liability insurance for damage to any item, equipment or user Bicing could lead to a third party, and the damage can be done by the same user.

Thanks Joan!
Hangzhou’s massive bike sharing system provides medical insurance in case of accident or collision:

In fact, the Public Bicycle System in one of China’s wealthiest cities, Hangzhou, has surpassed Paris’ Velib as the world’s largest bike-share program, with 60,600 low-cost, low-tech bikes and more than 2,400 stations spaced out about every 200 meters, [Susan] Shaheen said. Since Hangzhou opened the floodgates in 2008, more than a dozen other cities in China have launched cycle-hire schemes. Uniquely, China provides insurance if an accident happens during a trip. “No other place has bundled that in,” said Shaheen.

I think it’s ridiculous that we ‘rich’ Americans don’t have universal health care, but health insurance is a legitimate concern for anyone without it, or with sub-optimal health insurance (which is pretty much everyone, except Congress, to my understanding).

I know for sure that I have avoided certain risky activities, like playing soccer, biking, etc., when I had a lapse in my health insurance, and I know other people do it, too. We have good reason — in 2007, 62% of all bankruptcies were tied to medical bills. That’s insane. But what’s more insane is that 80% of those people had health insurance.

It’s one thing to risk your personal safety by riding a bike — it’s another thing to risk bankrupting your family.

Need bike insurance?

I’m skeptical that this concern is actually a reason significant numbers of people don’t ride, but I do believe it prevents at least a small percentage of people from riding. Maybe bike-sharing in Vermont will take off? Time will tell.

Can companies save money by locating near transit?

June 17, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect it is a ‘Yes’. Savings on employee salaries could offset higher costs of land/office space/payroll taxes/etc.

I’m currently on the prowl for a new job. I’m not a fan of buses, so the only realistic non-car transportation choices for me are walking, biking, and train travel.

I have some choice in where I work (hard to believe, I know). I can’t pick a company I want to work for and work there (I’m not that good), but I do often end up with competing offers which have various pluses and minuses — one of the biggest factors for me, of course, is location location location.

Let’s go to a concrete example. There are myriad tech companies (my main deal) all over the Bay Area — downtown San Francisco all the way down The Peninsula (everything between San Francisco and San Jose), all the way into downtown San Jose and all of the mega-sprawl that is San Jose (the 10th biggest city in the US). Two locations I’m currently looking at are downtown Redwood City, and Redwood Shores — they sound similar because they’re pretty close — but downtown Redwood City has a train stop, and Redwood Shores has….high speed roadways, and is located on ‘the wrong side’ of 101 — that is, to get there by bike from Caltrain, for instance, you’d have to cross over the 101. Somehow.

When speaking to a recruiter about the Redwood Shores position, I said, “I’d normally ask in the range of $X k/yr, but since y’all are in a….less than optimal location for me to commute to (understatement!), I’d ask for X*1.20 (that is, 20% more than I would ask for a position in a good location, like downtown Redwood City.”

Then she hit me with the, “Well, I think they work from home sometimes, etc.,” to which I thought about my old engineering professor’s line: “Life is full of decisions.” Translated, this would mean, “Listen — y’all decided to locate on the wrong side of the 101 — that’s up to y’all — but you have to deal with the consequences of your actions and decisions.” In other words, it’s not my fault that they decided to be on the wrong/cheap-land side of the 101, and I don’t care that someone can sometimes work from home — if it’s 100% telecommute/work-from-home, then there’s something to talk about, otherwise, I just need to know if you’re good with the additional 20% salary boost to compensate for the crummy office location. Apparently, they are. [In actuality, my Crappy Commute Multiplier is closer to 40%, but I suspect I'm not normal.]

What if we could show that employees, in particular young, urban-y employees who don’t necessarily like to or want to drive, would work for…10-20% less if they could get to work without a car? That’s significant money. Also, employers like Google and Microsoft and Apple and myriad other companies run what amounts to a massive, private army of high end/luxury transportation services to shuttle employees to Caltrain, and to various locations/cities/downtowns all over the Bay Area — wouldn’t they like to get rid of this incredible expense?

[Incidentally, it is generally taken for granted that this private transit army is good for the area and its employees, but I believe it helps to keep land use sprawly and inefficient, helps increase traffic congestion and noise and various other nuisances/pollution, and it helps undermine public transit. That's a story for another day, though.]

Why is crossing the 101, on foot or bike, such a disaster? Just look at what you would see on your way to Redwood Shores from the nearest Caltrain station, Belmont — this is Ralston Ave., heading East — you’ve survived the onramp to the 101 Southbound, and now you’re faced with an uphill climb while the number of car lanes increases — once you make it to the top of the hill, you’ll once again have to not get killed by drivers zooming onto the onramp for the 101 Northbound, as the wide shoulder recedes from about 6′ wide to about 2′, before it eventually disappears altogether — and for your reward, you’ll be subjected to Marine Parkway, yet another high-speed, multi-lane roadway, with a speed-inducing raised median (those are the Oracle towers ahead) (and don’t ask about the way back — with the disappearing bike lane that drops you between four lanes of high speed auto traffic, two lanes on either side of you, while you try to maintain your balance as you ride over the reflectors that sit on the striped white line that you are now riding/praying on):

So, a few tidbits:

  1. Freeways destroy value. I can’t say this with authority because I’m not a commercial real estate person, but i suspect office space rates on the ‘right side’ of the 101 are higher than on the ‘wrong side’ of the 101 (aka ‘the middle of nowhere’)
  2. Any unnatural obstruction to the movement of people (and their services and ideas!) and goods has the potential to destroy value — so whether you erect an invisible Maginot line between countries to keep people from moving about freely (aka ‘borders’), some anti-human wall to trap people in Apartheid-like bantustans, or just build a massive freeway — all of these things have the potential to destroy economic value (not to mention the human spirit)
  3. There is an abundance of labor, and most companies understand that most employees are replaceable, so companies are not hesitant to locate in the middle of nowhere. For exceptionally-talented employees, companies need only to pony up the extra coin to bring them on board
  4. There is some talk of companies abandoning suburbia for walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible places, but I don’t believe there’s much evidence for it. For example, take Google, Facebook, and Apple — they’re all either extending and expanding their stays in The Middle of Nowhere, or they are moving even further out into The Middle of Nowhere.

The question is, how much cheaper is office space/land/taxes in the middle of nowhere (Redwood Shores, Cupertino, etc.) compared to in places that are relatively walk/bike/transit-accessible? Then factor in how much less expensively employees would be willing to work for if they were allowed to work in the more-desirable location — which means they’ll have higher-quality lives, they’ll live healthier and longer, they won’t be contributing as much to the destruction of the environment, they won’t suffer as much marital stress and unpleasantness (and ultimately, divorce), etc. If the two costs are close (savings on office space vs. savings on employee salaries), then perhaps companies should rethink where they locate.

Should bike-sharing programs have to make money?

June 17, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Simple Answers to Simple Questions


This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

Female Driver ‘Backlash’ in Saudi Arabia

June 17, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Are you a member of the Law & Order Brigade (L&OB)? Then you have a wonderful opportunity today!

It seems that the women of Saudi Arabia (that repressive, authoritarian, extremist, torturing state supported with billions of US taxpayer dollars — yet described in the US corporate media as ‘moderate’) are about to start breaking the law, en mass, just like stop sign-running cyclists here in the USA do every day — click the image to see the full video (Warning: NSFL&OB):

I, for one, can not stand for this. I plan to write my Congresscritter immediately and demand that they demand that the women of Saudi Arabia obey the law — the women of Saudi Arabia simply must not be allowed to drive, as it is against the law, and the law must not be broken. Further, if some women in Saudi Arabia do dare to drive, then I will implore my representative to implore the dictatorship government of Saudi Arabia to punish these outlaw women to the fullest extent of the law.

If you are with me, please leave a comment with your full name and email address so that the women drivers of Saudi Arabia will be able to thank you for your extreme magnanimity in making sure that they remained true to the ideals of modern authoritarianism — to unquestionably obey all laws, no matter how unjust, no matter the consequences (assuming we ever hear from them again).

Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter.

Velib Hits 100 Million Trips (in just 4 years)

June 15, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Tip: World Citybike email list.

I’m not sure why a Japanese game show-type thing happened around one of the stations (presumably to celebrate the 100 Millionth trip), but it’s pretty darn funny:

The PDF press release has a few more details, including this quote from the Paris transportation person:

As this milestone of 100 million trips illustrates, Vélib’ continues to go from strength to strength. In the 1st quarter of 2011, Vélib’ had over 5.5 million rentals, the best 3-month period since the scheme was launched. Vélib’ has proven to be an up-to-date, efficient, non-polluting means of transport, well suited to the mobility requirements of the wider public. As I frequently find myself repeating, Vélib’ is breaking new ground. It is a relatively new scheme that has never been rolled out on such a large scale before and it will inevitably require fine-tuning if we want to continue improving the quality of the service offered to the large numbers of its users. We will continue to work hard, building upon today’s celebrations to ensure the success of Vélib’ in the future.

Annick Lepetit, Deputy Mayor of Paris responsible for travel, transportation and public spaces.

More here.

It’ll be interesting to see what types of numbers will be possible as Paris and other cities gradually provide more safe and comfortable places to ride.