Quantifying Civilization

July 9th, 2010

I took a break from the VELOCITY 2010 conference and rode to the Copenhagen street corner billed as the busiest intersection in the city. A meter there counts the number of bikes that pass by as they cross the bridge. 27 cyclists cruised by during one light change; 15,000 in all on that day; and… Read more »

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I took a break from the VELOCITY 2010 conference and rode to the Copenhagen street corner billed as the busiest intersection in the city. A meter there counts the number of bikes that pass by as they cross the bridge. 27 cyclists cruised by during one light change; 15,000 in all on that day; and 1,815,570 so far this year. Quite cool. The stream of cyclists felt like the very definition of freedom and self-reliance. And people looked happy and alive as they pedaled along on their way to work or school—it was a collective experience of a high order. I submit that this counter is as good a “civilization meter” as anything that history has provided.

Traditionally we have used other data to decide what makes a great civilization.

If cultural output is the yardstick, Egypt and Classical Greece are looking pretty good. But did enough of the community share in the greatness? If civilian enlightenment is the measure, China during the Sung dynasty (9th Century) comes out well: their civil servants had to pass tests that included writing poetry and painting landscapes. What about those who never took the test?

The US considers itself highly civilized based on education standards, citing statistics about how many people have college degrees. But Native Americans – who greatly value their connection to nature – might see things a bit differently.

Whichever aspect of civilization you value more, it seems fundamental that a truly civilized society has to be one in which the greatest number of people feel safe and secure as they move around and congregate in their public spaces. This is where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness take place, where they are visible. And you can judge the greatness of a city by the percentage of people using and enjoying the public spaces.

This brings us to bikes.

No need for a mini-van hereThe Danes consider themselves as civilized as it gets. They take pride in their egalitarian and democratic principles, and they have become tireless advocates of rights for pedestrians and cyclists. More than one third of Danes ride a bike everyday to school or work. They have become synonymous with cycling (along with the Dutch). Over the last 50 years they have weaned themselves away from cars in urban areas, and they have increased the amount of public spaces devoted to pedestrians, cyclists, sidewalk cafes, etc. Denmark now leads the Livable Cities initiatives internationally. And they can quantify the advance of their civilization:

  • 16% of all transportation trips taken in Denmark are by bike
  • 45% of all kids ride a bike to school everyday
  • 25% of all parents bike their toddlers around the cities
  • 20% fewer bike injuries have occurred as cycling has increased 20% in recent years
  • 9% of the population in Denmark suffers from obesity
  • (30% of the US population suffers from obesity. We ‘lead’ the world in this metric)

Warehouse Sale this Saturday

If you happen to be in the Bay Areas next week, please come to our first ever warehouse sale. We’ll have bikes, samples and all kinds of things. The location is right on Harrison Street. See more details on our Sample Sale.

Critical Mass Danish Style

June 25th, 2010

About 1200 people from five continents came to Copenhagen this week for the annual “bikes in cities” convention aka VELO-CITY GLOBAL 2010. The conference draws the leading urban Transportation and Planning professionals from around the globe. We checked a PUBLIC bike on our flight to attend the conference and to ride around the bike centric… Read more »

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About 1200 people from five continents came to Copenhagen this week for the annual “bikes in cities” convention aka VELO-CITY GLOBAL 2010. The conference draws the leading urban Transportation and Planning professionals from around the globe. We checked a PUBLIC bike on our flight to attend the conference and to ride around the bike centric city. Copenhagen, along with Amsterdam, are truly world class cities if you like to ride or walk. 40% of Danes ride a bike everyday, that’s over half a million people. Think about it. But the 40% plummets to 30% during the winter storms i.e. only 1 of 3 people ride their bike to work when it is snowing.

The conference ended today so we’ll now have time to write and post photos from this inspirational event. There are many angles to cover. A good place to start might be to show a range of photos of the diversity you see on the streets on bikes—a parade of colors, textures and attitudes. The truly democratic and humanistic nature of a seeing so many people in motion is thoroughly optimistic—people watching as good as it gets. This is just a sample.

Bikes and fashion are a natural combinationCopenhagen's commuting cyclistsCyclists as part of traffic
Variation on the Danish "bucket bike"Enjoying the city sun on a bikeCharming young troupe of unicyclistsWe're not the only folks who love stripesAn inspiring display of style, attitude, and enjoymentClassy stripes on a canary yellow cargo bikeSome lucky kids getting an early start as bike commutersColorful and elegant unicycleStripes, cycling, and practical use of a bicycle rack

Different Gears – Same Destination

June 24th, 2010

PUBLIC attends VELO City 2010 in Copenhagen We traveled to Copenhagen for VELO City 2010, an international platform where passionate professionals join to exchange ideas on bike policy and promotion. VELO City 2010 will: “(VELO City) will highlight the bicycle’s potential to enhance the quality of life around the world and to solve global challenges… Read more »

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Different Gears - Same Destination

PUBLIC attends VELO City 2010 in Copenhagen

We traveled to Copenhagen for VELO City 2010, an international platform where passionate professionals join to exchange ideas on bike policy and promotion. VELO City 2010 will:

“(VELO City) will highlight the bicycle’s potential to enhance the quality of life around the world and to solve global challenges such as congestion, obesity and climate change.”
– Quote from VELO City About Section

Seeing the large presence of the bike culture in Copenhagen is an inspiration for PUBLIC’s mission. Check back soon for daily updates from our trip to Europe.

Copenhagen TrainTransporting a ladder by bike

David Byrne’s “Creation in Reverse” at TED

June 18th, 2010

We’re fans of David Byrne for all the cultural stuff he churns out and we think his Bicycle Diaries is a brilliant form of advocacy. We’ve written about him before.  And we’re fans of TED.  Both have quite special websites. We just received a note from his office: “My own [TED] talk (it wasn’t a… Read more »

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We’re fans of David Byrne for all the cultural stuff he churns out and we think his Bicycle Diaries is a brilliant form of advocacy. We’ve written about him before.  And we’re fans of TED.  Both have quite special websites. We just received a note from his office:

“My own [TED] talk (it wasn’t a musical performance) was based on the idea that the acoustic properties of the clubs, theaters and concert halls where our music might get performed determines to a large extent the kind of music we write. We semi unconsciously create music that will be appropriate to the places in which it will most likely be heard. Put that way it sounds obvious…but most people are surprised that creativity might be steered and molded by such mundane forces. I go further – it seems humans aren’t the only ones who do this, who adapt our music to sonic circumstances – birds do it too. I play lots of sound snippets as examples, with images of the venues accompanying them…Enjoy.”

Byrne’s talk is also available as video podcast, downloadable free from the iTunes store.

Espress Lane: Baristas and Bicycles

June 14th, 2010

Bike shops often get a bad rap for having attitude or being unfriendly to anyone but bike geeks. That’s changing big time. What could say “take your time, you’re welcome here” better than a friendly, on-site barista? We were in Minneapolis last month. We stopped by the Angry Catfish bike shop where the barista served… Read more »

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Bike shops often get a bad rap for having attitude or being unfriendly to anyone but bike geeks. That’s changing big time. What could say “take your time, you’re welcome here” better than a friendly, on-site barista?

We were in Minneapolis last month. We stopped by the Angry Catfish bike shop where the barista served us this cappuccino with the foamy heart shaped adornment. It was nothing special for him – just another coffee.  But it was very special. How many other kinds of retail stores provide this sort of pleasure? Maybe in Italy, but here in the US – and in a bike store?

It turns out that quite a few bike shops across the country boast a café – it’s becoming part of the culture. In San Francisco we have the Mojo Bicycle Cafe, a terrific local establishment where the modest barista allowed me to film her finishing off my cappuccino. Other caffeinated bike shops we have visited include the Juan Pelota Café at Mellow Johnny’s in Austin, and One on One in Minneapolis where you can find Moose and Masi’s together.

Ride Studio Café Serves coffee and PUBLIC bikes

This cool bike shop in Lexington, MA, just opened. They are carrying a range of PUBLIC bikes as well as their own Honey bikes. Both are pretty sweet. For information on what other bike shops carry PUBLIC bikes click here.  Not all these stores make and serve cappuccinos, but they are known for service and smiles.

If you frequent a bike café, tell us in the comments below, and we’ll make a list of them to share on our website. We’re guessing that Portland or Seattle might have five or six, given the regional addiction to coffee in the northwest. And if you send us a video clip of a worthy cappuccino foam topping, we’ll post it and send you a surprise gift from PUBLIC. Surprise gift means whatever item we have too many of. We’ll give you credit of course, but this contest is just for coffee nuts like ourselves.

Caffeine Powered Bike Shops

The First Lady of Livable Cities

June 7th, 2010

Meet Janette Sadik-Khan I was lucky enough to meet and interview the First Lady of Livable Cities, Janette Sadik-Khan (and NY Times profile) in New York last month. (Her actual title is Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.) Sadik-Khan oversees the way people get around in the Big Apple.  It’s one of… Read more »

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Meet Janette Sadik-Khan

Janette Sadik-KahnI was lucky enough to meet and interview the First Lady of Livable Cities, Janette Sadik-Khan (and NY Times profile) in New York last month. (Her actual title is Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.) Sadik-Khan oversees the way people get around in the Big Apple.  It’s one of those jobs that is a little hard to get your head around: she manages 793 bridges and over 300,000 streetlights on a daily basis.  And there are impromptu events everyday. For example, we watched President Obama land in his chopper from her 9th floor window office and the ensuing traffic problems as a result of his motorcade. No two days are the same.

I am a big fan because she has done more to make US cities livable than any recent person we know.  You’re welcome to challenge me on that in the comments below. I would be happy to meet another person in the US who surpasses her in accomplishments.

Consider these recent New York City milestones:

  • Transforming Times Square into a pedestrian zone
  • 200 miles of on street bike lanes
  • 1200 new outdoor bicycle racks
  • 600 signs to guide cyclists
  • 35% increase in commuter cycling from 2007–2008.  Think about that. 35%.

The changes she brought about in New York set an example for other smaller, less complex urban environments. You only have to go to Manhattan and pedal around to appreciate what these accomplishments mean.  You can get almost anywhere in New York City pretty easily.  And riding across one of the bridges is a real thrill.

Her actions and leadership make so much sense in light of the BP Gulf Coast debacle. We can chastise BP and “Big Oil” all we want. But as long as our society maintains the current rate of oil consumption, we should can expect more disasters to occur.  Sadik-Khan’s rationale for reducing cars in the city has less to do with preventing future natural disasters and more to do with solving immediate and pragmatic urban issues of congestion and mobility.

According to Sadik-Khan, “projections show that one million more people are expected to move to New York City over the next 20 years.  Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for the city recognizes that the only way to accommodate that growth is to improve public transit and make cycling a real transportation option for New Yorkers.”

It is great to see a woman in a leadership position like this.  US transportation design culture (cars, bikes, trains) has traditionally been male dominated. Robert Moses might have his own opinion.

Hear Sadik-Khan and join PUBLIC in Copenhagen

If you get a chance to meet or hear Janette Sadik-Khan talk, it’s worth it.   Later this month she’ll be addressing an international audience at VELO City in Copenhagen. We’ll be there too, so come ride with us.

We Love Rush Hour

May 31st, 2010

Add to Rush Hour Madness When people ask us about the mission of PUBLIC, we have lots to say. But in short, we want to help bring this kind of rush hour madness to the US. To aid and abet the cause right now, we have reduced the prices on our bikes and we are… Read more »

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Add to Rush Hour Madness

When people ask us about the mission of PUBLIC, we have lots to say. But in short, we want to help bring this kind of rush hour madness to the US.

To aid and abet the cause right now, we have reduced the prices on our bikes and we are offering free shipping through the end of this week (June 7th). And we have signed up a number of shops around the country where you can test ride a PUBLIC. Ask us for details.