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Posts from the Bicycle Culture Category


“Vie Bikes” Looks to Make Cargo Biking Accessible for SF Families

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Photo: Vie Bikes

More San Francisco parents are discovering that cargo bikes are the new family minivan. But while it’s increasingly common in SF to spot a parent pedaling their helmeted offspring around, cargo bikes and motorized bikes remain off the radar of most families looking for better ways to get around the city.

In leading bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, cargo bikes are no secret — they’re ubiquitous. Now, utilitarian biking in SF could get a leg up with the impending public launch of Vie Bikes, a company that will let families test out cargo bikes and bikes with electric motors.

Vie is currently testing out its services before the big public reveal next month, providing access to family-friendly bikes without the expense and hassle of having them shipped overseas. Vie staff will also offer consultation and maintenance services to customers.

“We’re trying to knock down barriers,” said Kit Hodge, one of Vie’s three co-founders, who was previously the SF Bicycle Coalition’s deputy director.

Vie will deliver bikes to the customer’s door and offer on-street consultation on how to use the bikes. The bikes can also be rented for trial periods, and the company will accept trade-ins for “when your life changes.”

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Cargo, Electric-Assist Bikes Gain Traction Among SF Families

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Dorie Appolonio (left) chats with a fellow cargo bike owner at Sunday Streets in the Mission. Photo: Hum of the City

At Rosa Parks Elementary School in the Western Addition, the bike racks are filling up. Even with San Francisco’s hills and often far-flung school assignments, Dorie Apollonio thinks she and her family have helped start a trend at the school ever since they started dropping the kids off by bicycle from their home in Parnassus Heights.

“There are so many biking families at Rosa Parks now that we are, I’ve recently learned, sort of our own gravitational force,” Apollonio wrote on her blog, Hum of the City. “We attract a few more families away from their cars every year.”

Apollonio writes: “Every morning is a cargo bike roll call at Rosa Parks.”

Pedaling two children a few miles across San Francisco need not be an exhausting effort, as more families are finding. Bikes with electric assist motors can replace the family minivan, as Apollonio and her husband did in 2012. Since her family went car-free, Apollonio brags that they are saving loads of money and never have to worry about traffic.

“San Francisco is the kind of city that is made for assisted bikes. There are, famously, a lot of hills,” Apollonio wrote in a post from last September. She says she correctly predicted “that 2013 would be the year of the electric assist bicycle,” saying she’s noticed a boom in their use.

“I, and everyone else riding one, can testify that an assisted bike will make driving in the city seem ridiculous,” she wrote.

Families relying upon cargo and electric bikes seem more numerous this Bike and Roll to School Week than in previous years, as San Francisco starts to resemble cities like AmsterdamCopenhagen, or Tokyo, where cargo bikes hauling children are just a normal part of the streetscape.

To meet the rising demand, Kit Hodge is leaving her position this month as deputy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to start a company called Vie, which will lease out family-friendly bikes with features like cargo racks, electric assist motors, and passenger seats.

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Eyes on the Street: Rabbi Ditches Pickup Truck for SF’s First “Pedi-Sukkah”

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Shea Potash, brother-in-law of Rabbi Nosson Potash of Cole Valley Chabad, celebrates the Jewish holiday of Sukkot on car-free JFK Drive. Photo: Katherine Roberts

Up until this year, Rabbi Nosson Potash used a pickup truck to haul his sukkah — a structure used in ritual celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot — to spots around Cole Valley. But now you’ll find him on the city’s first pedi-sukkah, a tricycle outfit he had shipped in from New York City.

“It’s about getting around with no carbon footprint, human-powered, which is also the idea of the holiday — connecting with nature,” said Potash. “It’s a harvest festival.”

Potash was introduced to the idea of a pedi-sukkah by Katherine Roberts, a bike advocate who lives in Cole Valley. Roberts said Worksman Cycles, which stakes the claim as America’s oldest bicycle manufacturer, began producing them a few years ago, and that they’ve since become common in parts of Brooklyn. Pedi-sukkahs have since made it as far out as Portland, Oregon.

“It puts out a much better message than using all this fuel and these resources that you don’t really need to use for this activity,” said Roberts.

Potash explained that sukkahs provide observers of Sukkot, a week-long holiday, the type of “temporary hut” (a symbol of impermanence) in which to perform the harvest-based rituals. Potash has brought it to various spots around Cole Valley, the Upper Haight, and the Inner Sunset over the past week to provide that space for observers. He also brought it to eastern John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park during its car-free hours, which wasn’t previously possible with the truck.

Potash said he plans to continue using the trike for trips in running his Jewish community center.

“It attracts a lot more attention,” Potash noted. “Anything can be on the back of a pickup — a sukkah is not usually on the back of a bike.”

Roberts uses the sukkah in Cole Valley. Photo: Jym Dyer/Flickr

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Video: A Dutch Perspective on U.S. Cycling Infra

SF editor’s note: This video features plenty of examples of San Francisco’s stressful bicycling streets — the kind that the SFMTA hopes to transform in its Bicycle Strategy. The agency has determined that only 10 percent of the city’s bike network is “comfortable for most people.”

Last December I traveled to Amsterdam for the first time. I don’t ride a bike, but as a pedestrian, to be surrounded by human-oriented infrastructure (see these Streetfilms) was a little like visiting another planet. And the strangest part was how normal it was. In the Netherlands, bikes are about as controversial as umbrellas, and only once in eight days did I feel threatened by a driver.

From BicycleDutch, this critique of street conditions in the U.S. flips this dynamic on its head. You’ll chuckle and cringe as the narrator calmly eviscerates typical American bike “infra.” (See? Even their descriptors are more elegant.)

On the other hand, he seems impressed that American cyclists have the fortitude to ride the streets at all, and that bike lanes are “popping up everywhere.”

What do you think, Amerikanen?


Broadening Its Outreach, SFBC Helps Organize “Bike Build Convivios”

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Mission, an energetic crowd filled a room with about half a dozen bikes propped up on stands. Among the crowd was Juana Teresa Tello, who was there to get some pro bono guidance on how to fix up a two-wheeler that will help her get to work, to school, to the grocery store, and around San Francisco.

The SF Bicycle Coalition's Chema Hernández Gil (right) works with community groups to organize "Bike Build Convivios." Photo: Natalie Gee, Chinese Progressive Association

“It’s exciting. It’s me learning a skill, an interest, and getting a new mode of transportation around the city,” said Tello, who works as a community organizer with local social justice advocacy group POWER. “It’s a community-led process, where you’re recycling bikes, you’re learning to fix them yourself so we can do this on our own.”

“It’s a learning curve,” she added.

The event, called “Bicis del Pueblo” (“Bikes for the People”), was one of the new “Bike Build Convivios” organized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and community organizations like People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER). At the second event last Sunday, several dozen people showed up at the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics at Valencia and 16th Streets to learn how to fix up a bike and ride it safely.

Interest has been so intense the organizers have a hard time keeping up. “We actually don’t have enough bikes for everybody,” said Chema Hernández Gil, community organizer for the SFBC.

The SFBC and other organizations collect bikes that are donated or recovered by the police and unclaimed, and volunteer bike mechanics at the Convivios walk participants through the process of fixing it up, Hernández Gil explained. “We have these bicycles, we want to get them refurbished and into the hands of members of these community groups — people who need a way of getting from point A to point B, to work, to school,” he said.

Hernández Gil joined the SFBC last October as a bilingual community organizer to help bolster its efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking residents. The Bike Build Convivios are one part of the organization’s campaign to create more programs in partnership with organizations in non-English-speaking communities. The SFBC also teaches bicycling classes and prints its Family Biking Guide in Spanish and Chinese, and the Convivios include an “Intro to Safe Biking” workshop in English and Spanish. Hernández Gil said the events will continue in the following months in neighborhoods including Civic Center, Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley.

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Like Wind in Your Hair: A Chronicle Columnist’s Refreshing Bicycling Decree

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Move over, Nevius: The San Francisco Chronicle’s latest bicycle-friendly declaration from columnist Caille Millner is a breath of fresh air, giving voice to the need for safer streets and setting the record straight when it comes to anti-bike rants.

For readers weary of the Chronicle’s regular bicycling coverage — a space mainly filled by a victim-blaming former sports writer with an irrational fear of bike lanes — take a break and enjoy watching Millner hit the nail on the head:

My heart sings every time I see a new bicyclist in San Francisco.

The more, the better, I say. I want to see 10-year-olds riding to school. I want to see middle-aged women on wheels, wearing long coats and pedaling slowly so as not to disturb their full baskets on the way home from the market. I want to see old men, even if they’re a little wobbly, heading out to the senior center on old two-wheelers.

You should want this, too – it means a better city for all of us.

In writing this, I can close my eyes and picture the avalanche of hostile e-mail that will pour in. Nothing gets people around here more worked up than bicyclists, and they love to screech out their reasons for why the rise of bicycles in San Francisco represents a crumbling of civilization.

They write letters that are full of righteous indignation, presuming that bicyclists are the only uncouth people on our streets – as if they’ve never rolled through a stop sign (if they’re drivers) or (if they’re pedestrians) never waded into the street without looking, expecting the flow of traffic to magically cease in their presence.

There’s something unseemly about these letters, about the affront their writers feel at having to share the road with bicyclists. How dare they claim space that used to belong to me is the undertone of all of this sentiment. How dare they slow me down or force me to pay attention when I’m trying to get through traffic.

It’s tiresome, it’s whiny, and it’s wrong.

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San Francisco’s State of Cycling: Is It Falling Behind?

An increasing number of women are riding bikes in San Francisco, but bike advocates say the city still has a long way to go to make the streets inviting for less intrepid riders. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency released its four-year State of Cycling Report [PDF] this week. While the findings in the report may not be new to those keeping an eye on the growth of bicycling in San Francisco — which has jumped 71 percent from 2006 to 2011 — bike advocates say it highlights the city’s faltering plans to roll out bike infrastructure in comparison to other cities.

San Francisco’s bicycling rate, at 3.5 percent of work trips, ties for second among major American cities with Seattle, lagging only behind Portland’s at 6 percent. The city was also recently ranked the second-most “bikeable” city in the country by Walk Score, tying with Portland behind Minneapolis in first. And, no doubt, it has seen an unprecedented roll-out of bike improvements since the bike injunction was lifted two years ago.

But the success of San Francisco’s low-cost investments in improvements is all the more reason for the city to catch up to cities like Chicago and New York, which are setting the bar for rolling out protected bike lanes, said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition.

“The state of bicycling in San Francisco is indeed strong,” Shahum said in a statement, “but it can and should be much stronger by connecting our city more quickly with great bikeways and welcoming more people to biking with a robust bike-share program and great bike parking options. Making San Francisco a more bike-friendly place will help our city be even more successful in reaching our goals of growing jobs locally and improving our overall accessibility, sustainability and public health.”

The SFMTA is working on a strategy to reach the city’s goal of increasing bicycling to 20 percent of all trips by the year 2020, but its release seems to have been delayed for months. That goal, set by the Board of Supervisors in October 2010, has been criticized as lofty — as the SF Bay Guardian pointed out, it would require a 571 percent increase in ridership over the next seven years.

The expectations set in the SFMTA’s five-year Strategic Plan [PDF], approved in January, were more tempered, however. The agency’s goal is to increase all non-private automobile trips to 50 percent by 2018. Currently, that number is at 38 percent. While that “mode shift” would also come from walking, transit, car-share, and taxi use, “We think half of that can come from bicycle growth,” said Tim Papandreou, Deputy Director of Transportation Planning for the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division.

“We’re at [3.5 percent trips by bike] now, we could get to 8.5, 9.5 percent, which would make us the biggest bicycling mode share in North America,” he told Streetsblog. Still, that target would only meet the city’s “20 percent by 2020” goal by roughly half.

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Walk Score Calculates City Bikeability, SF Comes in Second to Minneapolis

Factoring in proximity to bike lanes, street connectivity, topography, and commuter cycling rates, the Bike Score algorithm rated Minneapolis America's most bikeable city. Image: Walk Score

The people behind Walk Score, the real estate rating service that goes by the slogan “Drive Less, Live More,” are out with a new rating system, based on hard data, that should prove useful to prospective city dwellers: Bike Score.

The company launched the Bike Score website today, using its new algorithm to rank the ten most bikeable cities in the country. (We covered their release of city rankings for transit last month.) Minneapolis ran away with the top prize with a 79 percent bikeability rating. San Francisco tied Portland for number two, despite the fact that hilliness was a factor. D.C. and New York also placed highly (while the NYC core rates very highly on Bike Score, the bike lane deserts outside the center city score quite low).

The staff of Walk Score is made up of a whole lot of bike commuters. No wonder they were excited to launch a new bikeability ranking. Photo courtesy of Walk Score

In other bikeability rating news, the League of American Bicyclists released its 2012 list of Bicycle Friendly Communities today. There’s a lot of overlap between the BFCs and the Bike Score winners, but they are compiled use vastly different methodologies. For one thing, you won’t find two of the League’s top three cycling cities on the Bike Score list because Bike Score, so far, only looks at cities with populations over 200,000. Sorry, Boulder and Davis.

Colorado and Montana did well in the League’s rankings this year. Missoula and Durango moved up to gold, and the Colorado towns of Gunnison and Aspen made it onto the list for the first year, rolling in at the silver level. Look for your city on their updated BFC list [PDF].

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Bike to Work Day Shifts Into High Gear Tomorrow

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Image: SFBC, based on data from SFMTA

San Francisco’s streets are expected to fill with bike commuters tomorrow for the city’s 18th Bike to Work Day.

The city has more bike lanes, more people on bikes, and more political momentum for bike policy today than in years past. “We definitely expect to see more people bicycling on Bike to Work Day this year than ever before,” said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum, “given that the number of people of biking every year has been increasing significantly — 71 percent over the last five years, given that it’s supposed to be really lovely warm weather, and given, most importantly, that the city has added more dedicated bike space in the last year than ever before.”

In San Francisco’s most visible display of bicycling growth, SFMTA Bike to Work Day morning commute counts show that bike traffic has risen steadily over recent years on Market Street, which the SFBC now calls the busiest bicycling street west of the Mississippi. Last year at the Van Ness Avenue intersection, bikes made up 75 percent of vehicle traffic as car traffic plummeted on the corridor.

Since the bike injunction was lifted in 2010, the SFMTA has striped bike lanes in locations around the city, including some of SF’s first physically protected routes. The parking-protected bike lanes on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park are “substantially complete” as of this week (save some finishing touches), according to the SFMTA. Construction is also nearly complete on a two-way bikeway on Cargo Way.

The 23 miles of bike lanes added by the SFMTA since August 2010 “really cover very diverse neighborhoods,” said Shahum.

Bike commuters tomorrow will benefit from new curbside, post-separated bike lanes on DivisionLaguna HondaAlemany and Cesar Chavez as well as the green lanes on Market. Buffered bike lanes have also been striped on Bayshore and Sloat, and new conventional lanes can be found on 17thFolsom, Illinois, North Point, Townsend, Kirkham, Phelan, HollowayOceanPortola, and McCoppin. The SFMTA also continues installing bike racks (in corrals and on sidewalks) and sharrows throughout the city.

“When there’s more dedicated bike space, time and time again we see more people bicycling, and we see a more diverse cross-section of people biking,” said Shahum. “We see more parents riding with their kids to school, we see more older folks riding to a farmer’s market, we see more of San Francisco’s work force biking downtown rather than heading in in their cars.”

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What 20 Percent of Trips by Bike Looks Like in Aarhus, Denmark

It can be hard to imagine what San Francisco’s streets would look like if the city reaches its official goal of having 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020. As SF begins rolling out protected bike lanes like the one on JFK Drive, there’s some skepticism out there as to whether the dream of bicycling as a widely accessible, mainstream mode of transport could materialize here.

As it happens, I spent the spring of 2010 living in a city that has a 20 percent bike mode split. Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, with formidable hills and about 315,000 residents (1.2 million in the greater area), has been rolling out protected bike lanes over the past few decades and continues to promote bicycling through a campaign called “8,000 Reasons to Cycle.”

Like San Francisco, Aarhus is improving its bike infrastructure to catch up with the most successful cycling cities, like nearby Copenhagen, which has a citywide bicycling rate of 37 percent (and is shooting for 50 percent by 2015). You can check out Aarhus’s three-year Cycling Action Plan here [PDF].

The Aarhus campaign video provides a nice glimpse of what the “20 percent” vision would look like: groups of cyclists, young and old, using dignified, dedicated bicycle infrastructure everywhere you go. It also lists a few of the “8,000 reasons to cycle” (in case you’re wondering, “8000” is the Aarhus postal code). Here are the translations from Danish:

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