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Half Way Is Not Enough

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Images courtesy of Rob Forbes, The Botster and Ipv Delft

Every time I sit in bridge traffic returning to San Francisco from the East Bay, I have two conflicting emotions. First, how majestic, elegant, and inspirational the new bridge is aesthetically – and second, how unfortunate it is that cyclists are unable to ride the entire expanse of the bridge from the San Francisco to the East Bay. For those unfamiliar, you can only ride half way across!

Once you’re riding across the Bay Bridge you’re treated to a gorgeous, expansive view with incredible vistas that are a treat for tourists and locals alike. Advocacy and support is needed to complete the full bike-vision of the bridge, aka to create a bike lane than spans the entire length of the bridge from Oakland to San Francisco.

Plans appear to be in the works for this, but they are vague. According to Bike East Bay, the bike portion of the east span of the bridge will be fully connected to Yerba Buena Island by 2015. The SF Bike Coalition lists the completion of this span by mid-2016. SFBC also gives a date for a hopeful completion of the west span in 2018, but it appears that much more advocacy and funding is needed.

Bay Bridge Lights Image Courtesy of Greg Del Savio

We have made some world class bridge designs in the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge at the top of the list. It gets over 10 million visitors every year and the bike ride across it is epic and loved by all. The recent Bay Lights project on the west span of the Bay Bridge rivals any urban lighting you’ll see in Copenhagen or anywhere else in Europe.

We’ve got good design and great advocacy groups, yet we still seem to get mired in bureaucracy when it comes to creating sustainable means of transportation. If Copenhagen is currently considering creating the 2nd largest bike bridge bridge in the world, connecting Oakland to San Francisco does not seem such a crazy vision.

They Don’t Come Back

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Image courtesy of wellandgoodnyc.com

I was in New York earlier this month and rode from my Chelsea hotel through downtown and over the Brooklyn Bridge to visit our dealer, Joe Nocella who runs 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn. Riding in New York keeps getting better and better with excellent signage, more riders and respectful taxi drivers. Well, at least two of those three statements are true. Honestly now, riding in New York is a pleasure compared to most other cities. And riding over the Brooklyn Bridge is epic, even more so than our Golden Gate Bridge because of its history.

Joe’s bike shop, 718 Cyclery is cool – really cool. Joe calls it the “inverted” bike shop, meaning that they turned the concept of the traditional bike store upside down. His innovations range from teaching bike classes, working on bikes with customers, and creating an atmosphere that is super customer friendly, the way your neighborhood café is.

718 Cyclery Inside View

718 Cyclery does high-end custom bikes, everyday city bikes, and everything in between. Joe has been selling a lot of our bikes for years. When I asked him why, he said, “They don’t come back”. Basically, the quality is such that customers don’t return with the quality problems that plague other city bikes. We love getting these compliments, and we love having bike professional like Joe getting our bikes out on the streets where they belong.

We select our bike dealers the way we design our bikes – with great attention to detail. While out bikes rarely “come back” for quality problems, they need servicing and tune ups, and all of us need our local bike shop. For a list of other great dealers click here.

Header image courtesy of wellandgoodnyc.com.

Better City Spaces. Why Should it take an Earthquake?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Across the world, people are waking up to the reality that cities designed for people are far better places to live than cities designed for cars. A recent article by Alissa Walker, “6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever” brings this point home with its opening case study, the Ferry Building in San Francisco, a perfect example of citizens taking back public spaces that were previously dominated by cars.

Today the Ferry Building is home to world-class restaurants, a bustling farmers’ market, and one of the city’s crown jewel public plazas. 25 years ago it was a different story, few people even knew it existed. The towering Embarcadero Freeway filled with honking and polluting automobile traffic blocked the spectacular waterfront views. A deplorable state of affairs that might have persisted if the “design firm” of Loma Prieta and Associates* hadn’t come along.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake led to tragic loss of life and widespread destruction. After the tragedy, however, bloomed growth. The Embarcadero Freeway was destroyed beyond repair and instead of reverting to the status quo and simply rebuilding the freeway, enough forward-thinking city leaders championed and won the opportunity to transform the space into one of public revitalization—the vibrant and beautiful world-class marketplace we enjoy today.

Octavia Street, San Francisco. Before and After Central Freeway Teardown.

The Loma Prieta earthquake was also partially responsible for creating another terrific urban space in San Francisco, an oasis in the city along the Octavia Street corridor called Patricia’s Green after legendary urban activist Patricia Walkup. Stroll through Patricia’s Green on a Saturday fortified with a freshly whipped cone of Smitten ice-cream and consider that instead of the blue sky above, just over 10 years ago a concrete freeway would have been overhead. This gathering space in the middle of the thriving Hayes Valley neighborhood is where PUBLIC will be opening a new store this Spring.

San Francisco isn’t the only city making strides in reclaiming public space for the better. There are numerous examples of this all over the world. Naples, Italy, is a dense gritty city, yet when visiting there recently I found that their subways have become super clean art galleries.  In car-centric, freeway-focused, Los Angeles communities like Santa Monica are boldly converting streets to bike friendly corridors. New York City’s Highline, which we’ve written about before, is one of our favorite examples of reclaimed public space.

Call it Enlightened Urbanism, the Livable Cities Movement or just Common Sense, the fact is people are moving back to cities in record numbers and opting for an urban lifestyle where car travel isn’t daily and green space trumps the concrete-kind every time. We started PUBLIC as a way to contribute to this movement toward more livable cities, and we applaud all the countless others who are working toward these same goals. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. And we need your help to get there.

*There was of course no design firm lobbying to scrap the Embarcadero Freeway. Despite much public opposition local business fought to keep it in place.  The saga is a great read. We are fortunate that Mayor Art Agnos held his ground.

(For more on these issues, we recommend Jeff Speck’s book “Walkable City”, and Malcolm Gladwell’s talk “Place Matters” as two great places to start.)

Think The Unthinkable: Cities Without Cars

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

CicLAvia 2013

It is not a stretch to conceive of a time — a few decades from now — when people look back on the 20th century and the onslaught of cars into our cities, and ask “what were they thinking?” After all, who would knowingly lay out cities to prioritize the rights of cars over the rights of people? Who would construct surface level parking lots over precious real estate and not put parking underground?

Fort Mason Parking Lot, San Francisco

Here is an example from my neighborhood, a swath of underutilized asphalt in San Francisco that looks out onto the gorgeous San Francisco Bay. This decision is almost as absurd as putting a prison—Alcatraz—on one of the most scenic islands in the world.

But making the world a better place for cars was pretty much what happened in most US cities in the 20th century, all fueled by low gasoline prices, and the “modern” belief that car mobility was more important than community building. If we were designing cities from scratch today, wouldn’t we park cars on the outskirts, employ efficient mass transit to move people quickly and conveniently, and keep the city human scale safe and friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists?

This inconvenient truth is becoming obvious as cities cope with increasing traffic, congestion, pollution, and a crumbling antiquated infrastructure. The adage “you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic” rings true in almost every city where the car dominates our public spaces.

The good news is that major change is afoot all around the world.

Groups as diverse as CicLAvia in Los Angeles and the city fathers in Hamburg, Germany both give us examples of how this problem is being confronted. Hamburg’s “Green Network Plan” goes so far as to call for a phase-out of automobiles in the center of the city altogether over the next two decades. The Hamburg concept is especially noteworthy because Germans love their cars almost as much as we do in the US. Read more here.

CicLAvia in Los Angeles and Sunday Streets in San Francisco are also great examples of how change is occurring in the US. These groups stage events all over the city, open streets for people, and encourage us to rethink our public spaces. These “open streets” initiatives have grown dramatically all over the world in a few years. The concept started in Bogotá, Colombia over thirty years ago as a response to the congestion and pollution of city streets.

You can support CicLAvia and Sunday Streets with a donations. We would love to get some customer pictures from anyone who participates in CicLAvia’s April 6 event on Wilshire Blvd. or Sunday Streets’ April 13 event in the Tenderloin.

The more you read about places like Hamburg and Open Streets groups like CicLAvia and Sunday Streets, the more you realize that the US is still playing catch up to most of the modern world when it comes to smart transportation design and Livable Cities. But perhaps our time has finally come as more people embrace Lewis Mumford’s ideal:

The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity.

Or as he put more succinctly, “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”

Is Dog Your Copilot? Portraits of Pets Who Pedal

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Meliza and BuddyWe often have dogs hanging out with us at the PUBLIC store, and we know the only thing more fun than riding a bike, is a bike ride with a four-legged friend. That’s why we want to do a bike photo shoot that features our customers with their dogs – or any other bike-loving pets! Here are a few examples from Copenhagen Cycle Chic and one of our own. Whether or not you’re available for our March 29-30 shoot, please get in touch as we may schedule a few photo sessions. And if you don’t live near a PUBLIC store, but you know a dog who likes to bike, please send us a photo too. We love seeing your pet photos and if we gather some good ones, we’ll do a feature on our blog soon.

(Speaking of photos, we’re also looking for humans who bike for a spring photo shoot, the weekend of March 29-30. Learn more here.)

Casting Call: Show Us Your Bike Style

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Seeking Bike Models
At PUBLIC we design our bikes for all kinds of people. But if there’s one thing all PUBLIC owners have in common, it’s their personality and original sense of style.

So whenever we photograph our bikes we prefer to shoot them with our real customers and fans. You really make our bikes look great, just like we hope our bikes look good on you too.

We’re getting ready to debut a new spring collection of bikes and colors, so we’re once again reaching out to our community of PUBLIC owners and friends and inviting a few local Bay Area people to participate in a bike photo shoot at the end of March. If you’re available in the Bay Area on the weekend of March 29-30, have a good sense of humor, like riding bikes and being on camera, drop us a note at models@publicbikes.com.

Be sure to include some photos (headshots and full figure shots). We look for diversity. If you are selected, we’ll follow up in the next week, and everyone who participates will receive $150 in store credit and our promise to make the shoot a fun adventure. We’ll be shooting for one day that weekend in either San Francisco or in the East Bay.

If you want some more inspiration for your bicycle couture, Copenhagen Cycle Chic and The Sartorialist are a couple of our favorite places to start.

PS: Got a pet who loves to pedal? We’d like to do a photo shoot of dogs on bikes. Learn more here.

Iconoclastic Crosswalks in Montreal

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Roadsworth Street Art

“I was provoked by a desire to jolt the driver from his impassive and linear gaze and give the more slow-moving pedestrian pause for reflection.” —Roadsworth

These urban images are the work of Montreal artist Roadsworth, a city dweller and bike rider inspired by many things including the environmental art of Andy Goldsworthy. He playfully draws attention to the ubiquitous traffic signage systems that shape our lives but often go unexamined. While critics may question the safety implications of these altered traffic markers, we appreciate his iconoclastic attitude for reminding us that our urban surroundings are too often designed to serve the needs of cars instead of people. And perhaps this playful approach can help mitigate road rage. His work reminds us of French artist Clet Abraham, about whom we have written before. Is it coincidental that these two artists come from French culture? Read the full article at Atlantic Cities.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights, and Public Space

Monday, January 20th, 2014

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we wish to acknowledge the achievements of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement in a genuine, non-commercial manner. We believe that the spirit behind our mission – to increase awareness of the value of public spaces, and reclaiming our streets for people – is at the very foundation of democracy and social equality. Public space is where our society’s diversity should be welcomed, encouraged and made visible. Many of the enduring images of the Civil Rights Movement are of people claiming their right to use public streets, plazas, and public transportation systems without fear. Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is so powerful because of his eloquent message, but also because of the significance of the public space where it was delivered. The Lincoin Memorial, honoring a president whose legacy of emancipation remains unfinished, looks out onto one of the most noble and generous public spaces our country had designed. We are all greatly indebted to Dr. King, legions of civil rights activists and supporters, and his enduring inspiration in the continuing effort for greater equality and democracy in civic life.

Partner with PUBLIC

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Since the outset of PUBLIC four years ago we’ve enjoyed partnerships with individuals and companies ranging from boutique coffee roasters to enormous retailers like Gap. This eclectic list includes Tretorn, Kimpton Hotels, Clif Bar, Rickshaw Bagworks, Flos Lighting, and institutions like the California College of Art.

We have hosted numerous events at our South Park headquarters, including product launches for companies such as Parker Dusseau, bicycle-related movie nights and book readings, camping trips, and dozens of local fundraisers to support worthy charitable causes. We have worked with numerous arts organizations like Creative Growth and Southern Exposure, creating some unique one of a kind art bikes, and we’ve also partnered with 26 world-renowned designers and artists with our PUBLIC WORKS poster art project. And many of our signature products, such as our PUBLIC Stripe Helmet and Federico Red Bell, were done in collaboration with manufacturers.

Our second retail store on Valencia Street is a partnership with Harrington Galleries where we share space inside a furniture store. And we have partnered with many bike stores across the US and Canada.

Partnerships are simply the way we roll, and we may be as well known for these partnerships as for our bikes. At PUBLIC, we’re not just about bikes, but also about building more livable communities with great partners.

Looking Forward

New Retail Locations
We are looking for specific new partners this year, and at the top of our list are new retail spaces in San Francisco, but we are also exploring options elsewhere around the country. These might be locations where we might have a temporary pop up store. Ideally, we’d locate a ~1,500 square feet PUBLIC retail store in a bicycle-friendly corridor.

Food & Drink Vendors in South Park
We loved having Saint Frank Coffee set up a pop-up at our South Park store and we’d love to explore other opportunities.

Product Development
We do a lot of our own in-house product development, of our bikes of course (including some big new announcements coming in 2014), but also gear like our PUBLIC Basket and PUBLIC Farmers Market Twin Pannier. But we’re always looking for interesting product designers to work with us on new products.

Apparel Designers & Manufacturers
If you design and manufacture apparel that we can sell, we’ve got a potential platform for reaching new customers.

How to Partner With PUBLIC
Got an idea for a partnership? Have access to a potential retail storefront in San Francisco or pop-up outside of the Bay Area? Just send a short email to partner@publicbikes.com with your proposal or concept.

Lord Norman Foster Elevates Cycling in London

Friday, January 10th, 2014

London SkyCycle Bike Highway Concept

Lord Norman FosterThe recent proposal of a 130+ mile bicycle highway network around London got many of us buzzing. Elevated bike highways are an exciting concept with a long history: in a previous PUBLIC OPINION piece we commented on a bike highway planned for Pasadena all the way back in the 19th century. The NY Times has a great video report on a bicycle superhighway system that opened in Copenhagen in 2012. But the London SkyCycle concept is backed by the firm of world-renowed architect (and avid cyclist) Lord Norman Foster. Foster has been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize and just about every other award in his field. When such a high profile designer proposes a major bicycle project, you can bet that others will be paying attention.

One of the anomalies (tragedies really) in the 20th century modern design movement is that while this period will go down as the golden age for most areas of design – product, industrial, graphic, automotive, architectural – it will also probably go down as the worst period ever for city design. The last century was the golden age for suburban sprawl, especially in the US. Many of our cities were gutted, dissected by freeways, and filled up with surface parking lots. People and businesses were given many incentives to relocate out of the cities.

NYT Video: Copenhagen Bike SuperhighwayThankfully, much of the 21st century will be dedicated to moving people back to the city and we see this happening abroad and at home. The obsession with individual mobility, speed, and the automobile is being replaced by a love affair with connectivity and community, virtual and physical. In San Francisco, tech companies like Twitter and Adobe are bucking the Silicon Valley trend by locating on main bike corridors in the city center as opposed to industrial parks down the peninsula.

Revitalizing urban space is the vision that inspired PUBLIC and we applaud Foster + Partners and the other firms behind SkyCycle for working to reimagine the existing systems and infrastructure in our cities, and putting their weight behind such a major bike project. Check out the Guardian article here.


SkyCycle concept video by Room60 for Exterior Architecture