Monday, November 28, 2011

The Transformation of Our Cities

This is the first article in a series from Salon and a good look at the future of urban design and a glimpse as to the ideas forging the work being done in Reno to develop a "complete streets" infrastructure.  I eagerly await the follow up articles.

Do the streets really belong to cars, or to bikes, streetcars and sidewalk cafes? Should we forget about manufacturing and focus on knowledge- and service-based economies? What can we do with the unused spaces — the empty lots, the abandoned islands — to create the cities of our dreams? 
Those questions led directly to the bicycle boulevards, streetcars and revitalized waterfronts that have turned the urban renaissance into a self-perpetuating machine. The more innovative cities became, the more talented people wanted to live in them. The more talented people arrived, the more innovation they generated. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Bicyclists Best Friend

When I first watched this I was a bit worried about the dog.  As a dog lover it's hard to see a canine put in harms way.  But I'm going to hope that the owner (and the dog) know exactly what they are doing here.  It's a gorgeous video of a rider sharing some trail time with man's best friend.  No doubt "Lily" is one happy pooch!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bicycle Balance!

So many cyclists probably take the ability to balance for granted. Those first few minutes or hours of learning to ride a bicycle seem a distant memory. But when you think about it it truly is amazing the biomechanical act of maintaining balance. It's much more complicated than we often think. Shifts of weight in the hips, back, shoulders, all the while pedaling and maintaining steering and hand/eye coordination. Not to mention handling rough road surfaces. Speaking of which, I wonder how this bicycle riding robot would handle a less than smooth, flat course?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

San Francisco Bike Expo - Something For Everyone

This past weekend I attended the San Francisco Bike Expo for the first time.   Held in the Cow Palace (pretty much what it sounds like) the event included a swap meet, trade show, trials and BMX demonstrations, and a fashion show.   Luckily I wasn't on the hunt for a good deal at the swap meet because there were some nice frames and parts on the block.  But the real highlights were the on display in the trade show with the fashion show being particularly fun.  Here are few of the best things I saw from the event.

Renovo Hardwood Bicycles

Certainly one of the most striking looking bicycles had to be the Renovo Wood Bicycles.   They make lots of claims about the superior qualities of wood on their website and after hearing about the merits of other organic bicycle frames such as bamboo over the last few years I'd love a chance to put a bike like this through its paces.  The aesthetic alone is a show stopper.

Maya Cycle

Quite possibly the most interesting and practical item I found at the Expo was the Maya Cycle Cargo Carrier.  There are a number of cargo/trailer options out there on the market but what makes the Maya stand out is how smartly designed it is to convert into "wheelbarrow" styled carrier once you've reached your destination.  It looks like the perfect thing for urban shopping trips although I see from their site that they tout them as well for bicycle touring.  I may need to see about ordering one of these for my urban errand bike.  Too bad I didn't realize they had a nice price break on the ones at the trade show.

Other interesting products were the Rawland Cycles and the Virtue Bicycles on display.  I'd been admiring the Rawland product line from afar for some time so it was nice to see them in person. Nice quality.  Virtue Cycles out of San Diego also had a nice product line for the cyclist looking for something affordable but unique classic looking enough to stand out on the road.

Lights and visibility also seemed to be a theme at the show as you see from this video for MonkeyLectric.


A major emphasis at the San Francisco Bike Expo is giving fashion designers catering to the bicyclist a chance to show off their lines.  With that, the Expo had a fun and appropriately playful fashion show.  Pedal Savvy did a good job presenting some fun, (mostly) practical, cycling fashions.  I'm not going to list all of the designers because the Pedal Savvy site does a good job with that.  I've poked a little fun in the past about some of the "hipster" styled clothing making its way into the mainstream but I won't quibble with people wanting to avoid looking like a racer wannabe on a bike.  Below are some video clips and photos from the fashion show.






And finally, a little outdoor action at the expo.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Who Rides a Bike?

Olivia Hussey from the Romeo and Juliet shoot.
Been awhile since I visited RidesaBike but it's always fun to check up on some of the photos of celebs pictured on bicycles.

Agnes Moorehead of Sorry, Wrong Number fame.  A radio drama I just listened to with my students.
The epitome of cool, Humphrey Bogart!  I wonder if he knows how unsafe it is to talk on the phone while riding?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Think Talking On Your Cell While Driving is Unsafe? Think Again!

My dad was in Europe with his Blackberry when the problems with their cell phones was going on.  I didn't really think about the potential benefit that this might have on the safety on the roads until I saw this article from Abu Dhabi:


A dramatic fall in traffic accidents this week has been directly linked to the three-day disruption in BlackBerry services.
In Dubai, traffic accidents fell 20 per cent from average rates on the days BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents this week fell 40 per cent and there were no fatal accidents....
"Absolutely nothing has happened in the past week in terms of killings on the road and we're really glad about that," Brig Gen Al Harethi said. "People are slowly starting to realise the dangers of using their phone while driving. The roads became much safer when BlackBerry stopped working."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Save Your Ass...and Not Much Else

I'm not a huge fan of fenders and living in Reno I don't have to be.  They have their place of course and I've certainly used them.  But this "ass-saving" device seems like a complete waste of plastic if the roads were actually wet.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bicycle Lane Push Back and a Mini Manifesto!

Years ago when I first started using a bicycle as transportation I was pretty much of a mind that bicycling infrastructure already existed throughout our urban landscape.   That infrastructure was called streets and they could be travelled on by both cars and bicycles legally to get you pretty much wherever you wanted to go.  This is essentially the philosophy of John Forester's manifesto, Effective Cycling, which I read years ago.

To be sure this is an important part of any consideration of the rights of cyclists to use the transportation system.  Bicycles are vehicles and have the right to be on the roads whether they have a striped bike lane or not.  Of course, they also have the responsibility to use the roads legally, just like motorists are supposed to.

At the time I was less inclined to think there was much need for bicycle lanes as long as I could find a safe street to navigate the urban landscape.  My attitude began to change a handful of years ago when I became a little more aware of the history of bicycle specific infrastructure as it developed in some of the great bicycling cities of Europe.   To give an abridged history, cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and others, had city officials, bicycle advocates, urban designers, and politicians, who realized in the 60s and 70s that the model of urban growth they had been embracing in their urban centers was moving towards a car-centric model leaving little space for other users, both pedestrians and cyclists.  Ultimately, this becomes not just a transportation issue, but a quality of life issue.   Auto noise, congestion, and emissions, make for a pretty unpleasant experience whether you are driving, biking, or walking in an environment like this.

The planners in those and other cities in Europe made a decision to alter the underlying philosophy behind those early years of city growth and that a better model would be more in keeping with a "complete streets" approach.  This philosophy tries to balance the needs of all users, not just motorists and is catching on not only because it creates a more pleasant place to walk, bicycle, and drive.  It also is consistently being shown to be safer.  Simply put, people go slower, are more aware of everyone else using the space, and there are typically fewer accidents and fatalities.

What we are really talking about here is a greater observance of the rules of the road and a ratcheting down of the "me first" mentality of many users.  Essentially use of the urban space requires and acknowledgement of the social contract we all must observe.  This has also been the philosophy of the Reno Transportation Committees Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the RTC itself and has been embraced by many in the law enforcement community as well (not just in Reno).

At times there is push back.  Recently the mayor of Toronto has been actively removing lanes and calling an end to the "war on cars" that he feels has been going in what has often been called a great city for cycling.  Closer to home plans to connect bicycle lanes heading north/south along a part of Plumas street were halted because of complaints by one particular landowner along that stretch of road.

On a personal level, I have a friend who bicycles and continually rails against the stretches of bicycle lanes along California Avenue in the downtown area citing them as being unsafe.  Anecdotally, I ride the same stretch regularly and have never had an issue because I slow down and observe the rules of the road.  I'd even go so far as to say in "problematic" areas such as zones where a motorist might be looking to turn right across the bike lane, I acknowledge that possibility and take extra care to be safe.  It is my responsibility to do so.

To be sure, bicycle lanes can be problematic in places.  Notably as they approach intersections.  Various solutions have been implemented around the world to address these areas of potential conflict.  But these areas of conflict are true for pedestrians as well and the best solution to make the streets safe is to encourage all users to be aware of the space around them.  And it's not as if bike lanes belong on every stretch of road.

However, they do belong in my opinion and here is why.  The bottom line for me is that the health of a bicycle community can be measured in the diversity of bicyclists on the roads.  If you want to see a bicycling population that is as likely to have grandmas, families and kids on the roads as it is the younger, fit, (stereotypically) bike geek and recreation cyclist culture that already rides, you have to create infrastructure that makes those first groups feel comfortable and safe on the road.   For me John Forester's vision of bicycling infrastructure falls flat because in ten, twenty, or thirty years you're going to be looking at the same limited groups of cyclists on the road as you usually see today.  Not the diversity of riders you are likely to see on the streets of Amsterdam.

What I'm really talking about here is building a critical mass of cyclists using our roads regularly.  Not "critical mass" in the sense of one Friday a month rides that happen around the country but a truly organic building of a cycling community that is as diverse as the overall population of this country and beyond.  A "Complete Streets" model of urban design is one significant step in a long-term model that will hopefully build a cycling culture over the next few decades that rivals and surpasses the great cycling cities of Europe.  That's my hope anyway as I look at going back to graduate school in urban design.

Sunday Morning Music - Kate Bush

With the impending release of a new Kate Bush album I thought I'd go back to one of her best albums, The Hounds of Love.   For those in the know, Kate is one of those artists that you have to take notice of when she releases music.  Even if her most recent work hasn't quite reached the heights that some of her earlier albums have.  She is an Artist with a capital A!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I'm probably jinxing myself by saying this but I've never had a bike stolen.   I've regretted getting rid of a few over the years but that is a whole different thing.  Yet this little video certainly captures the loss that one can feel for an object that can perhaps become greater than the sum of its parts and an extension of who you are.  As one of my favorite Grant Peterson quotes puts it:
[A bicycle is] more like a violin or a fly rod-you work with it, it responds to every move you make, even letting you know when you're doing something klutzy . And like any fine instrument, it inspires great performances and makes even your worst performances (or your most dreary rides) more bearable because it's there beneath you, looking beautiful.