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Posts from the "Bicycle Culture" Category

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The Metamorphosis of Chuck Nevius and Mainstream Acceptance of Cycling

Nevius finally gets a handlebar perspective. Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography

It’s safe to assume that one year ago few bicycle riders who read the Chronicle would have ever imagined that Chuck Nevius would one day declare: “Bikes are the future. We need to do a better job of dealing with it.”

But that’s exactly what happened yesterday. Nevius’ sudden embrace of “the inevitable conclusion” is a milestone as bicycling becomes more and more mainstream in San Francisco.

“After all,” concedes Nevius, “more people than ever are pedaling the streets of San Francisco … riding a bike to work makes sense for even those who aren’t fanatic bike messenger types.”

You read that right. Not only did Nevius have an epiphany riding the Wiggle and write a column about it, but said he now uses a bicycle three times a week.

Nevius reintroduced himself into the urban wild just over a year ago after 20 years in captivity in Walnut Creek. If Chuck is an indicator species of cultural attitudes towards cycling as transportation, the experience has been nothing less than a metamorphosis from his windshield-perspective cocoon.

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Pedals and Rhythm at the Bicycle Music Festival Tomorrow

Filmed by Streetfilms’ John Hamilton.

What better way to spend your Saturday than celebrating San Francisco’s bustling bicycle and music culture?

The Bicycle Music Festival will feature a caravan of 15 different musical artists performing on 100-percent bicycle powered equipment, starting with a party at Golden Gate Park’s Log Cabin Meadow before pedaling over to Showplace Triangle in Potrero Hill to dance the night away. And the music doesn’t stop on the ride – two on-bike performances will bring the sounds to the streets as the festival rolls by.

Check out the full schedule and more info on the website.

We’re taking the rest of today off. Have a great weekend! We’ll see you back here Monday.

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Danish Architect Jan Gehl on Good Cities for Bicycling

Bicyclists on their way through the city are part of city life. They can, with ease, switch between being bicyclists and pedestrians. Photos by Jan Gehl.

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in our series this week featuring Danish architect and livable streets luminary Jan Gehl. The pieces are excerpts from his book, “Cities for People” published by Island Press. Donate to Streetsblog SF and you’ll qualify to win a copy of the book, courtesy of Island Press.

Bicyclists represent a different and somewhat rapid form of foot traffic, but in terms of sensory experiences, life and movement, they are part of the rest of city life. Naturally, bicyclists are welcome in support of the goal to promote lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities. The following is about planning good cities for bicyclists, and is handled relatively narrowly and in direct relation to a discussion on the human dimension in city planning.

Around the world there are numerous cities where bicycles and bicycle traffic would be unrealistic. It is too cold and icy for bicycles in some areas, too hot in others. In some places the topography is too mountainous and steep for bicycles. Bicycle traffic is simply not a realistic option in those situations. Then there are surprises like San Francisco, where you might think bicycling would be impractical due to all the hills. However, the city has a strong and dedicated bicycle culture. Bicycling is also popular in many of the coldest and warmest cities, because, all things considered, even they have a great number of good bicycling days throughout the year.

The fact remains that a considerable number of cities worldwide have a structure, terrain and climate well suited for bicycle traffic. Over the years, many of these cities have thrown their lot in with traffic policies that prioritized car traffic and made bicycle traffic dangerous or completely impossible. In some places extensive car traffic has kept bicycle traffic from even getting started.

In many cities, bicycle traffic continues to be not much more than political sweet talk, and bicycle infrastructure typically consists of unconnected stretches of paths here and there rather than the object of a genuine, wholehearted and useful approach. The invitation to bicycle is far from convincing. Typically in these cities only one or two percent of daily trips to the city are by bicycle, and bicycle traffic is dominated by young, athletic men on racing bikes. There is a yawning gap from that situation to a dedicated bicycle city like Copenhagen, where 37 percent of traffic to and from work or school is by bicycle. Here bicycle traffic is more sedate, bicycles are more comfortable, the majority of cyclists are women, and bicycle traffic includes all age groups from school children to senior citizens.

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The Nowtopian 16 Comments

The Political and Economic Implications of Bicycling Tourists

A Bike-and-Roll rental station in front of the Hyatt Regency at Market and Spear.

I’ve been bicycling in San Francisco since the late 1970s so I vividly remember when almost all bicyclists could recognize each other on the streets of the city. There really weren’t that many of us even as recently as the beginning of the 1990s, just two decades ago. We’ve come a long way, and one of the less recognized aspects of this bicycling boom has been the incredible expansion of bike rentals and bicycling tourism.

I wrote a flyer back in 1986 calling for a “City of Panhandles” and one of the arguments I made in that largely unnoticed document was that a systematic effort to provide safe, separate bikeways crisscrossing the City would itself lead to a tourism boom. As it turns out, we’re experiencing a dramatic increase in tourists cycling even before we provide adequate infrastructure. San Francisco is just an incredibly beautiful place, and people come from all over the world to experience its beauty. Growing numbers of those visitors aren’t much interested in seeing it through windshields and are opting instead (or in addition) to rent bicycles.

There are three “big” companies doing bike rentals in SF: Bike and Roll, Blazing Saddles, and Bay City Bikes (a number of smaller places, like the BikeHut at Pier 40, also rent bikes). I recently spoke with Darryll White, owner of Bike and Roll, and he gave me some impressive aggregate numbers. Since 1995 the local bicycle rental business has grown from about $500,000 a year to over $10 million! The remarkable thing about this huge increase in tourist cycling is that about 90 percent of the rentals are heading to the Golden Gate Bridge and to Sausalito, where the City Council has erupted into battles over bike parking vs. car parking, even pondering charging fees to touring bicyclists. The Golden Gate Ferry service keeps at least four of its ferry runs going to accommodate the cycling tourists, which have hit peaks of 2,500 per day during recent summer months.

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The Nowtopian 5 Comments

Ecology of Biking in Quito, Ecuador

Sunday, February 27, 2011, the 28-kilometer Cicleopaseo in Quito, Ecuador, heading southward.

The Quito Ciclopaseo happens EVERY Sunday, takes up over 20 miles of roadway each time, and is usually attended by over 50,000 cyclists during its 9-2 hours.

I just spent a few days in Quito, Ecuador, a remarkably beautiful city of a couple million sprawling 40 kilometers north-to-south through a series of valleys and plateaus in the Andes, surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes and rugged green mountains. I interviewed Heleana Zambonino from Quito for Streetsblog a while back, and wanted to see for myself the dynamic bicycling scene she described.

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The Nowtopian 6 Comments

19th Century Bicycling: Rubber was the Dark Secret

Boneshakers in the 1870s.

Boneshakers in the 1870s.


“If the increase continues, the time is not very distant when not to own and ride a bicycle will be a confession that one is not able-bodied, is exceptionally awkward, or is hopelessly belated.”
“The Bicycle Festival,” July 13, 1895 New York Times

The bicycle came to San Francisco during the last quarter of the 19th century. Like other places, it first developed based on wooden wheels, similar to those that were bearing stagecoaches and being drawn by horses. Horse-drawn streetcars were the predominant mode of transit in the 1870s, peaking in the 1880s, at a time when the individual horse was also still a major source of personal transportation.

Emperor Norton on a velocipede

Emperor Norton on a velocipede

And then came the velocipede, an odd device that attracted some early adopters of the era. Here’s Emperor Norton, a fellow who was adept at self-marketing long before Facebook made it a basic survival skill!

The boneshakers were aptly named, running over heavily rutted streets on solid wooden wheels, eventually improved by coating the in solid rubber. The bicycle was not a transit option at that early stage, but a novelty, and a device that attracted the adventurous few who were ready to break with the limits of human powered locomotion. In “The Winged Heel” column in the San Francisco Chronicle of January 25, 1879, the writer fully grasps the possibilities:

“The bicycle ranks among those gifts of science to man, by which he is enabled to supplement his own puny powers with the exhaustic forces around him. He sits in the saddle, and all nature is but a four-footed beast to do his bidding. Why should he go a foot, while he can ride a mustang of steel, who knows his rider and never needs a lasso?.. The exhilaration of bicycling must be felt to be appreciated. With the wind singing in your ears, and the mind as well as body in a higher plane, there is an ecstasy of triumph over inertia, gravitation, and the other lazy ties that bind us. You are traveling! Not being traveled.”

(I have to admit a great appreciation for that last aphorism, echoing through time a later motto of Processed World magazine that I helped produce in the 1980s: Are you doing the processing? Or are you being processed?)

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San Francisco’s Godspeed Courier Gets a Close Up

The wonderful filmmakers at California is a Place have done another short about bicycles in the Bay Area, this one focused on Godspeed Courier in San Francisco. As they did in Scrapertown, filmmakers Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari have captured a small vignette of a distinctive addition to bicycling in California with a beautiful eye. Check it out on their website for better watching.

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Some Performance Highlights from This Year’s Bicycle Music Festival

Justin Ancheta Performs at the 2010 Bicycle Music Festival Parade from John Hamilton on Vimeo.

Hundreds of people turned out over the weekend for the largest 100 percent bicycle-powered music festival in the world. This year's Bicycle Music Festival began with a day venue in Golden Gate Park, and ended with an evening of performances at Pavement to Park's Showplace Triangle. One of the big highlights was the LiveOnBike parade that wound its way through the streets of San Francisco featuring live bands. It was the first time the mobile concert ride had received an official parade permit from the city.

In the above video, Streetfilms' John Hamilton captures a great reggae tune from Justin Ancheta, who plays guitar and sings while maintaining a careful balancing act as he's pedaled around on a bicycle trailer/stage, with a human-powered band alongside.  Also, don't miss the performance by the Derailleurs at Showplace (below). Congratulations to organizer Paul Freedman, aka Fossil Fool of Rock the Bike (who you see in the video on his towering creation, El Arbol), and all his crew for making it such a success!

The Nowtopian 21 Comments

Detroit: The Return of the Repressed (Bicycling Culture)

big_empty_downtown_intersection_8342.jpgDetroit's once bustling streets are a bicyclist's paradise now, wide open and empty.

Visiting the ghostly motor city these days is an eye-opening and surprisingly inspiring experience. The city has fallen from more than 2 million residents a generation ago to around 800,000 today. A great deal of the land area where homes and factories once filled the blocks are now expansive vacant lots, masquerading as greenways in this wet June, filled with grasses and wildflowers. Some of these vacant lots have been converted into urban farms, but the larger majority is simply empty, reverting to some version of nature. Wild pheasants skitter across the vacant lots while songbirds, from bright red cardinals to brilliant yellow finches, fill the trees and bushes with their cheerful sounds.

wild_pheasant_8384.jpgWild pheasant runs across empty lot in east Detroit.
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Lessons from Copenhagen for Bicycling in the Bay Area

_1.jpgBicyclists -- and blue bike lanes and physically separated bikeways -- abound in Copenhagen, where biking makes up 37 percent of the trips to work and school. Photos by Leah Shahum

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of dispatches from Copenhagen and Amsterdam from Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who is on sabbatical in Europe. 

More than 1,000 bicycling leaders from nearly 60 countries are gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark to oooh and aaah, share and compare, and, above all else, challenge ourselves to step it up back home.

For a dozen of us from the Bay Area, the Velo-City Global Conference is a chance to experience the much-praised Copenhagen bicycling environment and to bring home ideas and inspiration at a time when our own region could be on the cusp of awakening to the benefits of great bicycling cities.

"In the Bay Area, people are starting to realize that this is the future, in terms of our development. And cycling is an integral part of that," says Corinne Winter, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

In presentations from biking advocates from Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, it is clear that cities are now considered the most vital frontier for increasing and improving bicycling, particularly as more people move to urban areas.

"Cycling is the most obvious way to encourage more mobility no matter which corner of the earth you come from," says Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard, Copenhagen's Mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration, who spoke to the eager crowd. "Copenhagen is just a drop in the ocean…but the power of our example is not to be missed. Cities need to look beyond their national borders and raise the bar worldwide."

Copenhagen clearly takes its role seriously as a pioneering bicycling city and wants to serve as a model for the rest of us. The numbers are impressive: 37 percent of Copenhageners ride bicycles to work and school, though the city's leadership is not satisfied with this and aims to increase that to 50 percent by 2015. More than 350 kilometers of physically separated bikeways grace the city's streets, and plans are underway to expand the already-impressive bicycling network with more dedicated bike space and improved intersections.

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