Let’s talk about the weather

I personally think that biking in the rain is pretty awesome – I can sing and nobody hears me, I can bond with the few bikers that are actually out there, and I can verify that my rain pants was sooo worth paying a fortune for. However, I still care about knowing what the weather will be like. I’d also love to see some stats on how many times I actually jump on my bike seat even though water falls from the sky. Weather impacts the ride tremendously, whether it’s pouring down or the sun is shining. We might want to add weather information to our service in some way. That’s why this link here might be important:


Bikeable Cities

I got two books for Christmas. One was about the art of flirting, and it was from my mother. Needless to say, any other book would make me happier. The other book wasn’t just any other, though. It was Bicycle Diaries. Artist and musician David Byrne (from Talking Heads) writes about his love for biking, and how his folding bike has become his favorite way to get around in new cities all over the world.

This point of view–faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person–became my panoramic window on much of the world over the last thirty years–and it still is.

His descriptions and perspectives on architecture, urban design, politics, culture and art in the cities he visits are all a true joy to read.

Our values and hopes are sometimes awfully embarrassingly easy to read. [...] “This is what we think matters, this is how we live and how we play.” Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind.

As a European who was new to the US a couple of years ago, and still haven’t been traveling that much around in this country, it disturbs me to read reports about all these American cities that are planned and laid out as if human beings’ only way of getting around should be by car. In most cities across America it is simply way too dangerous to get from point A to B unless you are within the four walls of a moving vehicle. You actually have to get into a car to visit a different part of town, as different neighborhoods are framed in by freeways.

In most of these cities one could say that the machines have won. [...] I try to explore some of these towns–Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta–by bike, and it’s frustrating. The various parts of town are often “connected”–if one can call it that–mainly by freeways, massive awe-inspiring concrete ribbons that usually kill the neighborhoods they pass through, and often the ones they are supposed to connect as well.

That you are forced into a car to get around is just as true for American suburbia. I remember being in some cute little NJ town with a friend of mine. We were supposed to go to the grocery store to pick up some food for the Sunday dinner.

Me: How far is it?

Him: Only 5 minutes.

Me: So let’s walk then?

Him: Uhm, I meant 5 minutes by car.

Me: But if it’s 5 minutes by car, it surely can’t be more than like a 20 minute walk?

Him: Well, there’s no way to get there on foot. We have to cross this highway, so… I wouldn’t do that.

This is so frightening, upsetting and sad. Or as Byrne says, “it’s long-term unsustainable and short-term lousy living.” Somebody please do something! I’m unfortunately too busy getting together this Paint Your City thesis celebration of biking right now. In the meantime, I’m so grateful that NYC Department of Transportation acknowledges walkers and bikers as well as cars in their transportation plans. Thanks to DOT and Transportation Alternatives, it gets easier and easier to get around by bike. There are more bike commuters than ever, and only the recent snowfall is making my daily bike rides less likely to happen. But for a delicious Sunday brunch, I can do anything!

Ridership Statistics

The Department of Transportation has gathered some interesting stats on New Yorkers’ bike habits. The Commuter Cycling Indicator shows a 8% increase between 2010 and 2011, and that commuter cycling more than doubled from 2007 to 2011, in just 4 years. Check out more interesting stats on ridership, and how it has developed at the different typical commuter locations (the bridges, the Hudson River Greenway etc) in this pdf: NYC Commuter Cycling Indicator.

3-4 Hours Exercise Not Enough

I just read an interesting post from Copenhagenize, Can You Afford NOT to Use Your Bicycle for Commuting?. Lars Barfred argues that most of us are not even close to reaching the limit of what our body can handle when it comes to physical activity:

Even if you do the weekly 3-4 hours most governmental health organisations tend to advocate, you do not exceed 50% of what you were born to. [...] It is probable that the recommendation of 3-4 hours a week, is more based on what the health boards believe is realistic to encourage, and will not scare too many people away.

I believe that if you only try to bike for transportation, you’ll be surprised by how far you actually can bike. All of us can bike much further than we think, just like Barfred explains how comedian Eddie Izzard demonstrated that he could run much further than most people thought he could:

Izzard clocked up more than 27 miles – further than a marathon – every day, six days a week, since he set off on July 26. The man who trained for only five weeks before his Herculean effort found things became much easier once he hit the road. When he started, he was completing the daily distance in around ten hours. By the time he had finished he had halved his time to a little over five.

Barfred also explains why biking is a good form for base exercise:

The bicycle is gentle on joints and tendons, provided you do not stretch your knee fully during revolutions. Runners are often injured, which is why bicycling is the best base exercise you can find.

Four Traits of a Game

One way of motivating people to do things they didn’t really think they would do, is to make a game out of it. Gamification if you like. From Jane Mcgonigal’s book, I’ve found her defining traits of a game:

“The goal is the specific outcome that players will work to achieve.” It gives players purpose.

Rules place limitations on how players can achieve the goal.” They push players to “explore preciously uncharted possibility spaces” and “unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking”.

“The feedback system tells players how close they are to achieving the goal.” This refers to points, a score, progress bar or levels. Real-time feedback pushes players.

Voluntary participation requires that everyone who is laying the game knowingly and willingly accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback.” It establishes common ground between players.

She says that everything else in games works to enhance these four primary traits. Wow.

“Pin” a place

As we are interested in exploring the aspect of discovery in an urban environment, there are a few analogs out there. Foursquare, Yelp and Google Places are some typical examples. However the app Matchbook seems to be pretty straightforward in doing exactly what we want our bikers to do. Discover a place in the physical world, hit a button to “pin it” on a map, and get it added to your list of favorite places. I will download the app and test the functionality right now.

“Think of it as like Foursquare or Yelp, except without all the distractions and complications of check-ins, reviews, social networking and everything else those services offer. Matchbook is just about bookmarking your favorite places.”
-Vator (from the Matchbook web site)

Biking and politics

Ben Adler’s article The Rise of Urban Biking in The Nation describes some interesting political views on biking in America. Why is it that bike lanes are more supported by the democrats than the republicans? Is supporting a more bike friendly city mainly about supporting Williamsburg hipsters’ image?

Still, the perception that cycling advocates are elitist has been exploited politically. Conservatives who dismiss smart-growth advocacy as the work of out-of-touch liberals who don’t realize that Americans will never get out of their cars have ramped up their criticisms to the point of demagogy, painting the complete streets movement as a scheme to turn red-blooded Americans into socialists. Last year, Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Dan Maes, attacked his Democratic opponent, Denver’s mayor, John Hickenlooper, for building bike lanes, warning that they “could threaten our personal freedoms” and “convert Denver into a United Nations community.” Hickenlooper won.
(Ben Adler, The Rise of Urban Biking)

Bikers and the rules of the road

Carrie and I have been talking a lot about traffic rules lately, and how we sometimes need to bend them to feel safer when biking in high traffic. Sometimes it feels so dangerous to take a left turn in a high-trafficked intersection, that we might ride a bit before the light turns green, because that’s the only time we can turn left without angry cars driving on all sides, and paralyzing us in the middle of the intersection. The Centre street / Reade street section right after the Brooklyn Bridge is one of those:

Tony Wessling a.k.a. The Upright Biker writes an interesting post about the subject of where the bikers fit into the traffic hierarchy, Bicyclists are not above the law – we’re below it. He states that the laws generally favor cars over bikers, even though we all pay for this infrastructure. When it comes to the red lights specifically, his philosophy is this:

Traffic lights, in addition to adding safety for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, are designed to regulate the flow of automobiles. The flow of bicycles does not really need much regulation at this point, so if there’s no danger, off I go. Once there are so many bikes on the road that their movement needs regulation, I’ll gladly stop. Did it in Amsterdam. Would do it in Copenhagen.
The Upright Biker

Bikers are different than cars, and we need to be very aware of that when designing our product. We can’t necessarily expect the biker to follow ALL rules at all times. We want our users to be safe on the bike, but sometimes safety and the rules of the road simply don’t match up.