Bike to Work in Style, Commute Like a European

May 19th, 2016

In the United States, we tend to be hard on ourselves about our rate of biking to work compared to Europe. However, we have reason to celebrate during this Bike to Work month. In America, the ranks of cycling commuters are only growing: our numbers rose about 60 percent throughout the aughts, from 488,000 bike… Read more »

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In the United States, we tend to be hard on ourselves about our rate of biking to work compared to Europe. However, we have reason to celebrate during this Bike to Work month. In America, the ranks of cycling commuters are only growing: our numbers rose about 60 percent throughout the aughts, from 488,000 bike commuters in the year 2000 to roughly 786,000 in 2008–2012, according to the US Census. More recently, biking to work has continued to trend upwards from 2006 to 2013 among workers of all income brackets.

bike to work bicycle commute

Although our patterns of bike commuting are looking rosy, we in the United States still have plenty to learn from Europe so that everyday people cycle as a matter of habit across the nation. Here’s how pedaling commuters get to work in style in the two cities with some of the highest rates of bicycling.

bike to work bicycle commute

Image via Wikimedia Commons

COPENHAGEN, Denmark

In Copenhagen, almost half of the population cycles to their school or office. We can glean some infrastructure lessons—as well as style tips—from Denmark’s bike to work culture.

bike to work bicycle commute

Image by Tony Webster via flickr

Infrastructure ingenuity

  • Only one percent of Copenhageners mention the environment as the reason they ride. Most of them do it because it’s the easiest way to scoot around town. Strong cycling infrastructure makes the choice obvious.
  • Traffic lights are coordinated for bicycles, not cars.
  • When it snows, bike lanes have priority for cleaning before roads. No wonder the majority of commuters still cycle through Copenhagen’s white winters.
  • City planners made bike lanes the most direct routes to the city center, according to the Guardian.
  • Footrests and railings allow riders to stop at a light without hopping off their seats. (Seattle recently added these—go Seattle!)
bike to work bicycle commute

Image by Bimbimbikes via Flickr

Cycling style

  • Copenhageners prefer bike baskets, storing their work supplies in a way that keeps the burden off their backs.
  • Personalizing the baskets with flowers and stickers gives cyclists a personal connection with their ride.
  • The baskets can be easily taken off the front handlebars, allowing for shopping and moving around.
  • Comfy saddles are standard. Brooks leather saddles can be seen around Copenhagen.
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By Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands

About 63 percent of Amsterdammers bike every day. Cycling to work is in their DNA. Here’s how it happened.

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Image by Apoikola via Wikimedia Commons

Infrastructure ingenuity

  • Dutch bike lanes are wide enough to allow for side-by-side biking, according to the BBC, allowing you to chat with your “bikepool” buddy.
  • Many cycling routes are offset from cars and the rest of the road, making commuters feel safe.
  • Bicyclists are treated as the first-class citizens they deserve to be. You’ll find signs that read: “Bike Street: Cars are guests.”
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Image by TCP via flickr.

Cycling style

  • Dutch children start biking as babies in cargo bikes, called bakfiets in Dutch.
  • Bikers don’t consider cycling a lifestyle choice. Rather, it’s a default mode. As such, their bikes aren’t consumer accessories to show off a subculture, but workaday vehicles, according to the BBC. In such a culture, cycling might seem more accessible to the rich and poor alike.
  • Sliding wheel locks allow for cyclists to quickly secure their bike and hop into the coffee shop on their ride to work.
  • Popular dynamo headlights are powered by pedaling—so you don’t have to remember to recharge them or replace the batteries.
  • Commuters bike to work in skirts and heels like it ain’t no thang, thanks to the predominance of Dutch-style step-through bikes. Seeing others do it all the time makes it seem natural… so why not start the trend in your city?

Increasing the number of bike commuters in the United States will have to be a joint effort between policymakers and the people on the streets. Start today to create the cycling culture you’d like to live in: Write a letter to your local representative to prioritize bike infrastructure. Then, slip on your high heeled shoes, put your laptop in your bike basket, and cycle to work with a smile. You might inspire someone else to do the same.

How to Bike with Kids on Mother’s Day—and Beyond

April 30th, 2016

On Mother’s Day, there are countless reasons our moms deserve handwritten cards and brunch. For some of us, those reasons include our fond memories of learning to ride a bike. Our mothers patiently guided us as we graduated from child bike seat to balance bike to kid bike with pedals. Just by watching Mom pedal around town… Read more »

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how to bike with kids child bicycle

On Mother’s Day, there are countless reasons our moms deserve handwritten cards and brunch. For some of us, those reasons include our fond memories of learning to ride a bike. Our mothers patiently guided us as we graduated from child bike seat to balance bike to kid bike with pedals. Just by watching Mom pedal around town herself, some of us learned to value biking for its exercise, convenience and fun factor.

For all those new mothers hoping to shape their children into cyclists, we salute you. Our figurative flowers for you include tips for teaching your kids the rituals of biking. Aside from the obvious habits that apply to all ages—wear a helmet, use hand signals, bike on the right side of the road—these pointers are kid specific.

With this advice, you’ll help your child safely grow from a bike-seat sidekick to a velodrome champion—well, if that’s what they want to be when they grow up. You can also read riding tips we collected from some of our favorite bike-riding Moms.

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The bike seat years: One-year-old to toddler

  • Before you start adventuring around town with your baby in a bike seat, your child should be one year old. They should be able to hold up their own head with a helmet on and not slump over in the bike seat, according to bikeportland.org.
    Choose a comfortable child seat with a sturdy harness. Once the child is old enough to unbuckle things, make sure they know not to escape from their harness mid-ride!
  • Start small and bike on quiet streets for short rides so that both you and your baby get comfortable.
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  • In addition to putting a helmet on your baby, always wear your own helmet to role model safe biking behavior!
  • This tip comes from the blog of PUBLIC C7 rider Joanna Goddard (past interview here): “If you have one young child, I would definitely recommend a front seat. You feel close and connected, since you can easily chat and point at things and see what they’re looking at. Plus, I find that having that extra weight in the front versus the back of the bike is easier for balancing.”
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The balance bike to training wheels years: Three- to seven-years-old or older

  • Consider a balance bike or push bike. A balance bike has no pedals and helps children focus on first learning to balance on two wheels. Once they have mastered the art of balancing they might be able to skip a pedal kids bike with training wheels all together.
  • After a balance bike, if possible, try to encourage your child to try a pedal kids bike without training wheels. By learning to ride without training wheels, your child will learn balance speed. Keep the seat low so your child can put both feet on the ground. Sometimes it’s easier to start on a gentle slope to get the pedal kids bike moving for balancing and then your child can start pedaling.
  • If your child does not have a lot of riding confidence, a pedal kids bike with training wheels is an option. Training wheels don’t help a child learn the importance of balance speed but they can help a less confident rider get going. All of PUBLIC’s smaller 16″ wheel size pedal kids bikes come with optional training wheels. It might sound contrary, but positioning the training wheels a little higher off the ground than you think will actually create more stability for the child when rolling, says PUBLIC product manager, Aaron Glick.
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  • Even though your child is low to the ground, buy your little biker a normal bicycle helmet, labeled with a certification by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Only let your child explore quiet, safe places—away from dangers such as cars and swimming pools.
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The bicycle years: Seven-years-old and beyond

  • Allow your children to graduate from a training wheels only once they’ve gained the necessary sense of balance, usually around five to seven years old.
  • Kids at 10-years-old and younger are safer riding on the sidewalk than on the street, according to Safe Kids.
  • Teach your young cyclist to make eye contact with drivers before crossing an intersection. They should make sure that the driver sees them and is going to stop.
  • Try a bike-to-school route! One adult could potentially lead the way, picking up children along the path to school to join the caravan.
  • Ditch the tandem bike. Children should be able to match your pedalling power before they tandem bike, which might take until they reach age 12, according to Outside Online.
  • For long journeys, consider a trailercycle, advises cyclist Charles Scott. You can store your supplies as well as resting children in your trailer. Once they’re ready, kids can get back on the bike and feel like part of the team.

Once your kids start pedaling, they might know their way around their neighborhood better than those kids who are only driven around in cars, at least one study has shown. The study also indicated that cycling kids have a richer connection with their community; they remember more spaces where they like to play than exclusively car-driven kids.

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In that case, what better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than pedaling around your neighborhood together? You’ll give yourself the gift of fun and exercise—and your children the gift of a more memorable childhood.

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Photography credit goes to the talents of Jetkat Photography. Model credit goes to the beautiful family of Copy Cat Chic. And big thanks to Rebecca Huval for making this post possible.

The Cars Are Jealous Of This Colorful Bike Corral Mural

April 13th, 2016

We’re all about making the world a more sustainable and healthier place through thoughtful urban design and sustainable transportation. So we got a special kick out of a recent public project in San Francisco that transformed a single car parking spot on the corner of Fell and Divisadero into a bike parking corral for 12 bikes… Read more »

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We’re all about making the world a more sustainable and healthier place through thoughtful urban design and sustainable transportation. So we got a special kick out of a recent public project in San Francisco that transformed a single car parking spot on the corner of Fell and Divisadero into a bike parking corral for 12 bikes with a vibrant, colorful street mural underfoot.

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Eric Tuvel in the bike corral.

We caught up with the mastermind behind this bike corral mural, Eric Tuvel (pictured above). Read on for more about Eric, how this project came about, and how you can implement a bike corral mural in your city.

PUBLIC: You’re both a visual designer and a bicycle advocate? Tell us more about your background.
Eric: My background in Graphic Design started in undergrad, which is where I started commuting by bike to class and to get around campus. As I pursued my master’s degree in City & Regional Planning, I began applying my design background to cities and commuting by bike became more about shaping how people move around the city. Before joining the SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) as a Transportation Planner in the Sustainable Streets division, I was the Design and Program Manager at the SF Bicycle Coalition. It was there I got more involved in advocacy and the biking community of San Francisco and fused my design/planning background with my love for biking.

PUBLIC: What was the inspiration behind this bike corral mural concept?
Eric: In my first position at the SFMTA I managed the bicycle parking program. As I started siting and surveying for sidewalk racks and on-street corrals, I started to see the various ways people tried to bring art into these bike parking facilities. Talking with my coworker one day, the idea just hit us and we thought, “What about painting a mural underneath the corral on the street?” It was really serendipitous.
Once the idea was planted in my head, I was determined.
I started running it by staff at various city agencies to get the approvals I needed. As for the mural that was installed, it was done by Bay Area artist Kristin Farr. She selected colors from the streetscape at the location to come up with the palette for the piece. She was selected by the sponsor, Madrone Art Bar, and was great to work with on the project. The piece is titled “Diamonds on Divis”.

PUBLIC: What were the major challenges to getting this bike corral mural implemented?
Eric: The major challenge was creating a process for something that hasn’t been done before. The main thing I did was talk to as many people as I could and loop in all the city departments and stakeholders I could think of. It’s a really positive project so overall everyone was supportive but there were some small concerns we were able to work through and got everyone on board. The other unforeseen challenge was the weather! Scheduling a time to paint was a little tricky with the recent fits and starts of rain we’ve had.

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Image courtesy of SFMTA.

PUBLIC: How is this project funded?
Eric: “Diamonds on Divis” was funded privately by the Madrone Art Bar. They applied for a corral in 2015 and we approved the location. When I came up with the idea, I thought Madrone was the perfect partner for the first one as the corral wasn’t installed yet and Madone is an art bar. I brought the idea to Michael Krouse, the owner, and he was on board right away. I feel lucky that we had a partner that was so easy to work with and was supportive from the beginning.

PUBLIC: If you’re an art and bicycle enthusiast outside of San Francisco, what should this person do to replicate a bike corral mural in another city?
Eric: First, learn more about what the city process is for something like this. Start with the department that installs bike parking in the city. The process might not be clear, but be persistent and keep talking to folks. Don’t be discouraged by how long it might take because the results are worth the work.

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PUBLIC: What’s next to expand this concept to other parts of San Francisco?
Eric: The next steps would be to evaluate the current bike corral mural, or “bikelet” as I’ve been calling it, over the next few months, primarily to see how it holds up to the elements. We are definitely interested in expanding the program and partnering with other organizations. We encourage interested organizations to contact us and we will be looking into proactively outreaching to businesses that are applying for or already have bicycle corrals. If people are interested they can contact Bikeparking@sfmta.com.

Celebrating The Green Bike Lane

March 15th, 2016

Written By Rebecca Huval On the upcoming holiday celebrating all things Irish and green, we should also pause to celebrate the green bike lane. These ribbons of color do more than brighten up an otherwise dull road—they give cyclists a sense of safety, create clarity for drivers, and announce to everyone on the road that… Read more »

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Written By Rebecca Huval

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Green on green in Vancouver, Canada.

On the upcoming holiday celebrating all things Irish and green, we should also pause to celebrate the green bike lane. These ribbons of color do more than brighten up an otherwise dull road—they give cyclists a sense of safety, create clarity for drivers, and announce to everyone on the road that bikes belong there. We’ve written about various colors in public spaces, including green bike lanes, in our past blog post “Rolling out the Green Carpet in San Francisco.”

Celebrating the green bike lane

Green bike lanes in Portland, Oregon. Image By Steve Morgan

In the past decade or so, these highly visible routes have rolled out in the United States, from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Portland was a leader in the early days, implementing green lanes at a time when there were no clear federal guidelines on bike lane colors. Then, in 2011, the US Department of Transportation officially approved green to mark bike lanes. It was chosen because of its visibility.

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Green bike lanes in Santa Monica, California.

That, and because all the others were taken—blue for handicapped spots, even purple for specific toll plaza approach lanes. Now, as one California city’s website explains, “Bright green painted bike lanes are sweeping the nation, and Santa Monica is no exception.”

Celebrating Green Bike lanes

Blue bike lanes in Denmark. Image via Wikimedia.

We in the United States aren’t the first to paint our bike lanes, but we have claimed green as our own. Starting in the early 1980s, Copenhagen painted blue strips to mark the safe zone for cyclists to cross an intersection. On the other side of the spectrum, bike lanes are often red in Amsterdam and even in that country we celebrate with green: Ireland. But a few other countries, including France and Spain, share our green streak.

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Green bike lanes and rainbow crosswalks in Seattle, WA.

So on St. Patrick’s Day, let’s celebrate Ireland, the color green—and the growth of visible bike lanes across the United States and internationally.

Vertical Parking Through The Years

February 3rd, 2016

With the advent of cars decades ago as the dominant means of transportation, city planners and developers reshaped our public and private spaces to accommodate the storage of these personal vehicles. By making it easy to find free or subsidized low cost parking, many cities simply encouraged more people to own and drive cars which… Read more »

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With the advent of cars decades ago as the dominant means of transportation, city planners and developers reshaped our public and private spaces to accommodate the storage of these personal vehicles.

By making it easy to find free or subsidized low cost parking, many cities simply encouraged more people to own and drive cars which simply resulted in more congestion and environmental problems.

Since cars take up so much space, people have always tried to find ways to store them vertically to reduce their ground-level footprint. This series of photos, “Vertical Parking“, shows how cities have attempted to accommodate the car through the decades.

The photo below is in New York City in ~1920.

An elevator parking lot, where the cars are hoisted up on individual platforms to save space, early 1920s. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


This one below is in Chicago in ~1941.

A vertical parking lot structure in Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, c. 1941. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)


If we spent as much effort and resources trying to house people, instead of cars, think about how different cities would be?

In contrast, a few cities like Amsterdam face an entirely different dilemma – how to accommodate the shortage of bike parking spots?

BikeParking-CentraalStation_0Photo credit: Poom!/flickr

In the article, “Amsterdam mulls underwater bike garage as available parking for cyclists dwindles,” Amsterdam is even exploring ways to go vertical but in a different direction than up.

Most cities have more available parking than people think. For example, it’s estimated in San Francisco alone, where people complain about lack of car parking all the time, that San Francisco has enough street parking space to fill the entire California coastline.

The problem is multi-faceted, but there many steps cities can do to improve parking and create better spaces for people. However, we think the biggest bang for taxpayer buck is for cities to be less obsessed about accommodating the car, but more focused on making other transportation options more accessible and safer to a wider number of people.

Not everyone is going to bike, walk, or take transit. But by making those transportation choices safer and easier for more people, it means less people driving and looking for parking. And hopefully, as more cities are successful in shifting people’s choices on how they get around, it will create a new set of good problems – like how to accommodate more bikes, more pedestrians, and more public transit riders.

The urbanist writer Lewis Mumford once wrote, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.” Instead of focusing on creating more space for cars, which has destroyed the character of many neighborhoods and cities, let’s focus on building beautiful, enlightened cities for people.

Reinventing The Underpass

January 12th, 2016

What comes to mind when we write “freeway underpass?” It’s likely that whatever you pictured didn’t involve thoughtfully composed landscaping, actively used pathways or cool art installations. This article by Alissa Walker explores how cities across the country are reinventing the underpass, perhaps one of the most neglected of city spaces. Reinventing public space into… Read more »

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reinventing the underpass in Toronto

Underpass Park in Toronto, Canada

What comes to mind when we write “freeway underpass?” It’s likely that whatever you pictured didn’t involve thoughtfully composed landscaping, actively used pathways or cool art installations. This article by Alissa Walker explores how cities across the country are reinventing the underpass, perhaps one of the most neglected of city spaces.

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Rendering of The Underline in Miami, Florida

Reinventing public space into something that’s actually usable for the public is near to our hearts. Examples we’ve written about before are projects like PROXY in San Francisco and the High Line in New York City, two urban areas that were reinvented from parking lots and derelict elevated railway lines, respectively, as spaces for people to hang-out, play and enjoy.

Inspired by Alissa’s article, we set out to find a few more examples of reclaimed underpass space in cities near PUBLIC Stores. If you’ve been to an underpass park or live near one, drop us a line with a photo and we’ll add your city to this list!

1. Burnside Skatepark in Portland, Oregon
reinventing the underpass in Portland
Once a renegade spot for illegal skateboarding, Burnside Skatepark was getting so much use it eventually won favor from the community and became city approved.

2. I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park in Seattle, Washington
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Cool story. The I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park in Seattle was built by a team of volunteers and includes over 2 acres of bike track and walking paths. It’s part of a larger 7.5 acre park.

3. SoMa West Skate and Dog Park in San Francisco, California.
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The SoMa West Skate and Dog Park in San Francisco includes a sanctioned space for skaters to shred and a little artificial turn for letting city dogs run around.

4. Proposed Wildlife Overpass in Los Angeles, California.
reinventing the underpass in Los Angeles

Ok, so not an underpass, but worth mentioning. This proposed 165-foot-wide, 200-foot-long overpass would allow large carnivores like wildcats and bobcats a means of getting from one set of mountains to the other without ending up as roadkill.

SUBMITTED BY OUR READERS
Christine writes: “San Jose just finished a public art project under two underpasses in downtown.”

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Art display under Highway 87 in San Jose, Photo by San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs.

SM writes: “New Orleans has a skate park called Parasite built under the freeway. It was built by Tulane City Center, a LLC ran by Tulane Faculty, Tulane School of Architecture Students and community member/organizations.”

The Bicycle For The 2016 Nobel Prize

December 27th, 2015

“The bicycle is an instrument of peace. It’s the most democratic means of transportation for all mankind.” – Massimo Cirrus & Sara Zambotti We love the bike for the simple pleasure it brings to us –– the smile it puts on our faces and the way it helps us connect with our local communities. When… Read more »

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“The bicycle is an instrument of peace. It’s the most democratic means of transportation for all mankind.”
– Massimo Cirrus & Sara Zambotti

We love the bike for the simple pleasure it brings to us –– the smile it puts on our faces and the way it helps us connect with our local communities.

When reflecting on the true nature of the holidays and the crazy, often violent world we live in, two Italian radio hosts are encouraging us to reflect on the bike’s role in history and its humanitarian benefits.

The hosts, Massimo Cirrus and Sara Zambotti of the Rai Radio 2 network in Italy, are nominating the bicycle for the Nobel Peace Prize. “The bicycle is an instrument of peace,” they write on their blog. “It’s the most democratic means of transportation for all mankind; it does not cause wars and pollution; and it decreases car accidents.”

While the Nobel Peace Prize is generally given to individuals or organizations, think about the bike as a messenger of peace the next time you take a spin. The bicycle helps reduce our dependency on oil, it supports healthier lifestyles, and makes our cities more livable.

The bicycle was viewed as wheels of change – a liberating vehicle by early feminist leaders. Susan B. Anthony wrote: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

And the bicycle, as World Bicycle Relief admirably states, “helps people prosper” by closing the distance to schools, jobs, and sources of water and food. Watch the video below.

While we sometimes take for granted the bicycle as a democratic instrument of peace and empowerment, we also love that almost anyone can ride a bicycle – rich and poor, young and old, and yes, even Nobel Peace Prize winners. We rounded up a few examples below.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR, 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

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Martin Luther King Jr riding a bike.

DESMOND TUTU, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Desmond Tutu riding to fight TB.

JIMMY CARTER, 2002 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

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Jimmy Carter riding a bicycle.

BARACK OBAMA, 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

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Barack Obama riding a bicycle.

Kudos to Bike Laborers

September 2nd, 2015

Labor Day is our nation’s tribute to the contributions of workers around the country. So we wanted to take a moment and salute those who labor by bike. Be it bike messangers who haul packages and mail, pedicab drivers who steer people from point a to be or those incredible bike couriers who are able… Read more »

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Happy couriers. Images via Pedal Express and missionmission.org.

Labor Day is our nation’s tribute to the contributions of workers around the country. So we wanted to take a moment and salute those who labor by bike. Be it bike messangers who haul packages and mail, pedicab drivers who steer people from point a to be or those incredible bike couriers who are able to get our pizza to us (still hot) and fresh flowers delivered on time to a special someone. We applaud this awesome pedal power and offer our high fives in the form of photos here.

Pizza Delivery

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Image by Pedal Express

Pedicab Driver

Image via flickr

Flower Delivery

Bike Contractor

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Image from Builder By Bike

Mail Messenger

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Image via flickr

Anything Delivery

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Image by Spencer A Brown

Building Bike-Friendly Housing

August 31st, 2015

According to the report “Millennials & Mobility” by the American Public Transit Association (APTA), 70% of adults under 35 use car-free modes of transportation several times per week and 33% of adults 35-45 want to use cars less. With more people choosing public transportation and bike commuting on the rise, it’s no surprise that residential… Read more »

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Bay Meadows, CA

According to the report “Millennials & Mobility” by the American Public Transit Association (APTA), 70% of adults under 35 use car-free modes of transportation several times per week and 33% of adults 35-45 want to use cars less. With more people choosing public transportation and bike commuting on the rise, it’s no surprise that residential housing developers are beginning to take notice and build more bike-friendly housing and neighborhoods.

Bay Meadows in San Mateo, CA

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Zeroing in on the fact more people are choosing alternative modes of transportation, housing developments are emphasizing more sustainable, space-efficient living through bikes. “Life in motion” is the tagline of Bay Meadows in San Mateo, CA. And in keeping with its slogan, many initial Bay Meadows residents receive a bicycle and are encouraged to use it for commuting to the nearby rail station and throughout the community.

The Shipyard in San Francisco, CA

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San Francisco Shipyard is another example of a development that’s working hard to promote a more communiity-based lifestyle through bikes. This brand new development offers a bike to all new residents in an effort to create “a place of fewer cars and more neighbors chatting on tree-lined streets… with bike lanes and miles of trails to help people stay active and thriving.”

Via 6 in Seattle, WA and ecoFLATS in Portland, OR

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Car parking takes up a lot of space and comes at a high-cost to developers. In high-density urban areas bikes are extremely efficient space-wise and come at a much lower developer cost. Cities such as Seattle and Portland boast unique highly bike-centric developments. Via6 in Seattle is a 654-unit mixed-use apartment that offers secure bicycle parking and a bike wash station for residents, plus a bike shop on the ground floor. ecoFLATS in Portland offers indoor bike storage (shown above), as well as 75 outdoor bike parking spots for residents. Plus, it’s a net zero building “meaning it generates all of the energy consumed.”

Providing bikes to new homeowners is more than just a nice perk and an effort to be more sustainable. It’s indicative of a bigger shift in addressing the transportation needs of urban-oriented residents.

Repurposing Public Space

August 24th, 2015

Public streets account for as much as a third of land in a city.  They have often been viewed as more of a domain for cars rather than people, sadly. But progressive cities around the world are repurposing these spaces into places for people, conversation, food and play. Some examples that we’ve written about before are New York… Read more »

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PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

Before PROXY, 2006 / Photo By Matt Baume

Public streets account for as much as a third of land in a city.  They have often been viewed as more of a domain for cars rather than people, sadly. But progressive cities around the world are repurposing these spaces into places for people, conversation, food and play. Some examples that we’ve written about before are New York City’s inspiring High Line  and Times Square Plazas (that we hope stay that way).

Another example located just near our PUBLIC Hayes Valley Shop is PROXY, an urban pop-up space that combines retail, food, art installations and outdoor events, in a plot of land that till PROXY was a parking lot and 20 years prior engulfed under the shadow of the Central Freeway.

We interview Douglas Burnham, founder of envelope A+D the design group that envisioned PROXY to learn more about how public spaces can be transformed into a dynamic places for interaction.

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PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

PUBLIC: The importance of reclaiming public space as walkable, livable and community-based are some of the founding principles of PUBLIC. Your team takes a similar approach with your projects—using architecture to create an immersive environment that transforms people’s experience with a space. Our flagship store in Hayes Valley is nearby one such of your projects, PROXY. Please talk to us about the PROXY project.

DOUGLAS: PROXY is a temporary two-block project located on lots that were left vacant after the removal of the 101 Central Freeway. In 2010, we responded to a request from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (OEWD) for interim uses on the Octavia Boulevard vacant lots. However, as we kept getting enthusiastic green lights from the city and the neighborhood, we quickly realized that we would need to figure out a way to make PROXY a financially viable project before we got carried away with soaring plans removed from reality.

People often don’t realize that while the space is publicly accessible, the project is privately funded and managed by our office. We act as the developer, fundraiser and steward of the two lots. We’ve spent the last several years taking enormous risks and grinding away to resolve issues that are inherent to experimenting live in the city without a safety net. It’s been an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience for the entire office.

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PROXY / Rendering by envelope A+D

In proposing the project, our goal was to create a concentrated, constantly changing experience of both culture and commerce in a zone that was previously invisible—a perceptual void—in peoples’ experiences. PROXY was conceived as a placeholder for a more permanent development—these lots will eventually be built with both market rate and below market rate housing. Our lease on the larger lot runs through 2020 and we are in the process of extending the lease end date through 2020 on the smaller Biergarten site as well.

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PROXY / Photo by Anne Hamersky

PROXY has established an emerging model of urban planning that demonstrates how recasting seemingly insignificant, underused urban spaces using temporary interventions can quickly and effectively transform portions of the city into thriving centers of ingenuity and fun. Though Hayes Valley was in the midst of a renaissance that had begun in the early 1990s with the neighbor-led push to remove the freeway, PROXY has helped to reinvigorate the neighborhood after the long economic downturn that lingered after the 2008 Stock Market crash.

Everything we do at PROXY is guided by our motto “HERE FOR NOW”. The world is always changing, so a healthy city needs to be able to adapt quickly and smartly to the circumstances at hand. The motto speaks to our goals for inhabiting the city as residents and is a call to action. By creating a vibrant mix of culture and commerce, we hope to encourage engagement with the city and the present moment in a heightened way.

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PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

On the commerce side, one important aspect of PROXY is its role as an incubator of micro-enterprise. Aether, Smitten, Biergarten, Basic Training, and SOSF all had their first physical brick-and-mortar (or steel-and-glass) spaces here and have really grown their businesses out of their initial presence at PROXY. Ritual and JuiceShop have also benefitted from the pedestrian-friendly open-air experience that PROXY has created. The vendors at PROXY have come to be our cohorts in an urban experiment of temporary activation. They have taken risks alongside us in making a go of it in small spaces on a limited timeline.

On the culture side, we have had many different art installations at PROXY, from the now-concealed “BRIGHTERFASTER” mural by Ben Eine, to installations by the Museum of Craft and Design and the Hayes Valley Arts Coalition. Our next foray into cultural production at PROXY is the realization of an outdoor movie and live music venue in the asphalt plaza area at the heart of PROXY. We ran a Kickstarter campaign this summer to raise enough money to complete the movie screen and purchase an outdoor-rated digital projector and sound system. We didn’t end up making our goal—and therefore didn’t get the pledges—but the campaign generated a significant amount of interest in the project and we were able to harvest enough donations to complete the screen (which is underway right now).

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PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

Ever the optimists, we are planning to do a scrappier version of a Fall Film Festival on the first four Fridays in October. The PROXY walk-in movie theater will be a place where everyone will be able to share in the experience of watching a movie with their neighbors in the open air. We’re still looking for donations — all of which our tax deductible through our 501c3 nonprofit HERE FOR NOW. (Go to HEREFORNOWsf.org to support our efforts to bring free outdoor movies to San Francisco!)

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Superkilen / Photo by Superflex

PUBLIC: What are some of your favorite, inspiring examples of reinterpreted public spaces? (Like the High Line in NYC, for example.)

DOUGLAS:  The High Line, of course, is the premiere example that everyone knows about. Yet, on my recent vacation I was lucky to be able to visit Superkilen—a new linear park in Copenhagen (being made famous enough from the iPhone photo of the glorious ribbons of white lines on asphalt that cover a portion of the park). Superkilen is really great because it operates right at street level and has amenities that are for the people that live right there — places to play chess, informally gather, play, skate, skateboard, swing and box (yes, there’s a boxing ring!). The design is more “pop” than the High Line and appropriately so as it serves the local residents in their daily lives in an economically diverse section of Copenhagen. There is a high degree of joyful invention that encourages play, social interaction, as well as safe passage through the park.

This kind of community-serving linear park is what we’re hoping to do with our transformation of the waterfront edge at the Hunters Point Shoreline. In NOW_Hunters Point we are transforming the site of a former PG&E power plant using strategies similar to those of PROXY. There, the process of engaging the neighborhood is more robust. Our team is actively prototyping possible interim uses that are tested though events. Working with Studio O, RHAA and John Greenlee & Associates, we are creating a string of several gathering zones for learning, playing and contemplation of the natural beauty on the Bay’s edge. This enhanced public access amenity is part of the transformation of the former power plant site and is taking a narrow existing access zone, widening it to roughly one-hundred feet, and threading a wider Blue-Greenway standard combined bicycle and pedestrian path through an enhanced landscape of grasses, flowers, trees and coastal shrubs. The layered history of inhabitation of the site, including the history of the power plant and its removal initiated through direct action of the Hunters Point residents, will be legible through didactic elements distributed along the path. The goal of the project is to support access to the Hunters Point Shoreline by the residents of Hunters Point as well as being a part of a system of regional open space that encourages the experience of the Bay and celebrates the specific history of the site.

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High Line / Photo by David Berkowitz

PUBLIC: How can the average person help to support projects that work to make public spaces more livable?

DOUGLAS:  Our wider goal for PROXY and for future project is to truly empower people to take a piece of the city, to become a steward of that place and to change it through direct action. Sure, it helps that we are architects doing this work, but we are also inventing so many things beyond our training and standard roles as architects. Because of this, I know that it really just takes passion combined with a vision of how something—your street, a neighborhood park, a vacant lot, a whole sector of the city—can be not just better, but can be something great. Mostly, it just takes knowing that you can make a difference and a certain amount of tenacity.

The guys that came up with the idea for the High Line were just people who cared about something that they saw as a treasure (and that other people, city officials included, saw as a blight to be erased). They applied the skills that they had, in both persuasion and finance, to rally their neighborhood behind their vision for a raised linear park 40 feet above the street. Their action, their risk, their initiative has literally transformed that sector of New York City into a thriving hub for both residents and tourists. Who would have thought?

We are inspired by citizens who act upon the cities where they live and we hope that our work also inspires people to take their own actions to contribute to the health and vibrancy of the city.