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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Single-Speeds in Rome and at Home

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

I wrote a piece earlier this year that focused on Italian Women biking in Italy, and the biggest difference between Italy and the US might be that you see a lot more women riding on the streets than men.

Lucky for us, we were in Italy again this past month for a two-week residency at the American Academy in Rome to participate in their visiting artist program. If you don’t know about the AAR, and you have serious interest in Italian culture, check them out. It is a remarkable institution that has various programs and is best known for the prestigious Rome Prize that is awarded to academics, designers, and artists. I was there to finish up a book about design found on the streets, and I took special note of the biking scene there. I focused on single-speeds, like the ones we’ve launched this month. They are very common in Rome, a city of Seven Hills, and the fact is that a single-speed bike will work for many of us in almost any urban environment.

Rome is now one of the best walking cities in the world and something of a poster child for the Livable Cities Movement of which PUBLIC is a member in spirit. In recent decades Rome has cleaned up its act by essentially banning cars from many parts of the city. Just two decades ago, cars – and the related noise and pollution – were so bad that it was frequently cited in tourist literature, along with pick pockets, as a dangerous urban element. All that has changed. Rome is now another beacon of optimism for other less progressive cities (like most in the US!)

Rome has actually been known for enlightened public policy dating back to Emperor Hadrian’s rule (117-138 AD) when many social policies were enacted to make the city safe and pleasant for the entire population. So today’s urban reforms have a lengthy tradition. OK, the Dark Ages and 20th Century car frenzy were serious interruptions to that tradition, but we see now that even the oldest cities in the world can adapt to a smarter way of getting around.

Erotic Parking in Japan

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Most of us who get around on bikes everyday are accustomed to improvising parking solutions: a fence, a parking meter, a bridge, or even a tree will do in a pinch. It doesn’t make us happy to struggle to find parking, but we’ve gotten used to it. And then you see a solution like the “Underground Bike Parking in Japan” and you become green with envy. That’s why I use the word “erotic” because it fills me with desire, not for sex, but for public design solutions this sexy. How many more people would ride a bike to work if they knew it could be dropped off and retrieved so elegantly? How much clutter from the streets would we eliminate?

Cities are only going to become more congested and dense as more people move into them. This urban trend is global and unrelenting. Why isn’t the US a leader here? Is it asking too much in our high tech world with engineers behind epic companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter – many of whom ride bikes and live in the city – to work with government officials to come up with some inspiring bike parking solution like what we see in Japan? This is one Kickstarter campaign we would all get behind.

Win a 3-Night Stay at a Kimpton Hotel

Friday, July 19th, 2013

We’re incredibly excited to work with another San Francisco-based company, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, to debut custom Kimpton PUBLIC bikes at all their 60 nationwide boutique hotel properties.

To celebrate we’re giving away a 3-night stay at any Kimpton Hotel.

It’s easy to enter the contest. All you need to do is get your friends to enter the contest by signing up for our newsletter. Deadline to enter is September 30, 2013. Click here for contest details.

You are probably familiar with many of their hotels that exist in many cities across the country. We’re big fans and customers of Kimpton for their shared emphasis on design, high quality food and amenities. We frequently put our guests in their San Francisco properties. Some of our favorite Kimpton properties are the Hotel Monaco in Chicago, the Amara Resort & Spa in Sedona, the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco, and the 70 Park Avenue Hotel in New York. But all of their 60 hotels in 26 cities across the US reflect their commitment to the same high standards and that personal touch of a boutique hotel.

Kimpton has always been considered an industry leader and this program is one further example. They are the first boutique hotel brand with a national presence to offer custom bicycles for hotel guests at every property. You can read the full description of the nationwide Kimpton complimentary bike program here.

The bikes are complimentary for guests’ enjoyment, in keeping with Kimpton’s commitment to health, well-being and sense of fun and adventure. The Kimpton PUBLIC bike will be easy to spot on the street with its custom cherry-red frame with orange and blue accents, cream tires, matching double walled rims, brass bell, and rear basket. The three-speed mixte frame bikes make city riding a fun adventure for novices or expert cyclists alike.

So join the contest, and think about taking a Third Wheel on your next hotel stay at a Kimpton Hotel.

Get two free cocktails for $1. When you book your reservation at any Kimpton Hotel use promo code PUBLIC. For one dollar more than the best available room rate you’ll receive 2 free cocktails per night during your stay. This offer cannot be combined with any other promotions or packages, and some alternatives may apply based on each individual hotel property. Take advantage of this offer between July 22nd – September 30th, 2013 at Kimpton hotels across the country.

The Bike-In Camp-Out with Alite Designs & PUBLIC Bikes

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

A few weekends ago we teamed up with our friends from Alite Designs for the Bike-In Camp-Out, our first ever collaborative bike-in camp-out overnight trip.

A group of 60 participants biked to Rob Hill Campground in the Presidio, which is the city equivalent of setting up a tent in your own backyard. For most of us, it was our first experience camping inside the Presidio with access to incredible beaches, views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, and spectacular Pacific Ocean sunset. And for most of us, it took only 30-45 minutes to bike to the campground.

Alite Designs makes and sells some of the best and simplest to use camping gear, including tents, folding chairs, and bags. They offered their easy-to-use equipment to make life easier for all participants and recruited Rice Paper Scissors to cater dinner, snacks, and breakfast. And Halcyonaire performed music around the campfire after all of us finished bourbon s’mores and hot chocolate.

In many respects, we were “glamping” (glamorous camping) but part of our desire was to introduce customers to bike camping without any worries – and to inspire them to consider camping to even further and more remote places on their own. For some participants, it was their first experience pitching their own tent and sleeping outside. Our Alite Design friends even documented easy tips on how to bike camp.

If you’re interested in learning about future collaborative events, make sure to sign up for the PUBLIC e-newsletter and follow Alite Design too.

Check out some photos of the Bike-In Camp-Out from photographer Kurt Manley, who also guided a photography hike for participants.

And of course, you can’t have a proper camping event without s’mores. This photo was taken by Dan from PUBLIC.

Public Protests: Istanbul (Now) and Amsterdam (Then)

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

The recent intense protests in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul have brought attention to the value and meaning of Public Space. Istanbul has very little free open space, and the government had planned to replace one of its parks with a monument and a shopping mall. The lesson here is clear: mess with public space and you might set off national blowback and find yourself the center of international attention and criticism.

In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel
By Michael Kimmelman

“So public space, even a modest and chaotic swath of it like Taksim, again reveals itself as fundamentally more powerful than social media, which produce virtual communities. Revolutions happen in the flesh. In Taksim, strangers have discovered one another, their common concerns and collective voice.” Read on.

Defenders of Public Space in The International Herald Tribune
By Harvey Morris

“The privatization of the public realm, through the growth of ‘private-public’ space, produces over controlled, sterile places which lack connection to the reality and diversity of the local environment, with the result that they all tend to look the same,” Ms. Minton wrote in a report for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. “They also raise serious questions about democracy and accountability.” Read on.

Transportation Chief Talks of Giving the Public More Public Spaces
By Clyde Haberman

“ ‘People are very possessive and passionate about public space,’ said Ms. Sadik-Khan, the New York City transportation commissioner. ‘When it’s taken away, I’m not surprised that there’s a strong reaction. If you took away Central Park …’ She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t have to. New York would surely have a popular uprising on its hands.” Read on.

It often it takes a riot, or some equivalent dramatic event, to get the attention of societies, government, and developers. And it has always been this way in the modern world. The entire biking movement of the last fifty years in fact owes its existence to public protests over the intrusion of automobiles into public space. It’s easy to forget that places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen were not always bike friendly and that public protest allowed them to develop and flourish, as this video makes clear.

How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths

These issues are near and dear to us at PUBLIC, where we think of bikes as one of greatest assets that allow us to more fully appreciate and enjoy our communities and public space. Thanks to the citizens of Istanbul for their courage and for reminding us that the issue is global one.


Put a Load on Your Rack

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Do these loads look unreal? They are. French photographer Alain Delorme embellished photos captured in Shanghai as a commentary on the Chinese economy and global consumerism. These compelling images entitled Totems feature migrants who bear the physical brunt of the fast-paced economy by hauling wares on their bikes and carts, like improvised trucks.

All PUBLIC Racks are on sale till June 18th.

Most of us don’t consider a bike complete without a rack, and 70% of our customers attached a PUBLIC Rack to their bike for good reason: it makes riding more enjoyable and functional. The rear of the bicycle frame is the most stable part of the bike and the most logical place to carry extra weight. And
if you’re used to carrying weight on your back, your body will thank you when you switch to one of these.

A rack allows people to carry their everyday awkward goods effortlessly with them when they ride such as laptops, u-locks, food, and other bulky items. And with a rack, many other possibilities open up: basket, pannier, or bag. (We have many to choose from and some are on sale too.) Our racks are unique. We design them ourselves to match our bike colors and for easy installation by anyone. They are an everyday good value and a special deal this week.

Was $65 Now $49
The most practical rack is our PUBLIC Rear Rack with Spring Clip. Our spring clip rat trap feature makes it practical and convenient for everyday lightweight objects and clothes. This rack can fit most bikes with 700c wheels & seat stay braze-ons.
Was $65 Now $49
Even our new city road bike PUBLIC R16 has a compatible matching Slender Rear Rack option so you can carry weight on longer recreational rides.
Was $60 Select Colors $25
Some customers even like to increase their carrying capacity by adding a PUBLIC Front Rack too. All PUBLIC Front Racks are discounted, select colors as low as $25.

NYC Bike Share Raves and Rants

Friday, June 7th, 2013

The launch of bike share in New York City, aka CitiBike, is probably the most significant transportation development in the city – and perhaps the country – in decades. Six thousand bikes, 33 stations, and 15,000 bike trips in its first day of operations. Credit Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan and numerous NYC groups for a program will have far reaching implications.

Everyday it seems there is another news article across all media with rants and raves. Thankfully the New Yorker brought a sense of humor and poignancy with its cover illustration.  There is not much we can add to the discussion that has not already been said. But we wanted to share some links and to alert you to the fact that Janette Sadik Khan will be in San Francisco next week. She is giving a keynote address at the San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC) Golden Wheels event. Here is a chance to meet one of the most influential and articulate leaders in modern transportation thinking and planning on the planet.

I had the good fortune to meet and interview her two years ago for this post titled “The First Lady of Livable Cities”. We are super fortunate to have her here in San Francisco. If you are local don’t pass up this opportunity to hear her and meet her.  All proceeds go to support the SFBC who work tirelessly to make San Francisco a smarter and more livable city for all of us.

Some summary notes and links on the New York CitiBike program.

The program is off to a phenomenal start. Check out the stats here.

New York City’s leaders took best practices from around the world where bike share has been already implemented in hundreds of cities.

Complaints about bike share are predictable, but over time reasoned arguments generally prevail, as summarized in Business Insider’s article “New York’s Bike Share Is Brilliant, And Every Complaint About It Is Bogus”.

The joyful optimism perfectly captured by New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham here.

The wildest curmudgeon rant we have seen comes from Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member Dorothy Rabinowitz who may be taking up where Michele Bachman is leaving off.  “Death by Bicycle” is the title for this diatribe.

Our friends at Pentagram Design have been active in this program. See here.

The largest bike share program is in Hangzhou, China, which is 10 times the size of New York City’s program. Here are Bike Sharing Maps from 29 cities around the world.

Credit Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Kahn  for a program that will have far reaching implications.  It will do for NYC and the US what the phenomenal Velib program did for Paris and France launched in 2007.

We look forward to watching other cities in the US playing catch up.  Hello San Francisco.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s annual Golden Wheels event on Thursday, June 20.


Italian Women

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

We were touring Italy last month checking out the urban biking scene in a range of cities. This makes for some interesting comparisons to the United States and leads us to this quiz:

What is the biggest difference in urban biking in Italy compared with the US?

1. Many Italian cities have retrofitted separate bike lanes in their cities.

2. Bicyclists can ride in bus lanes and on sidewalks without irritating pedestrians.

3. Bicyclists are not intimidated by cobblestone streets, streetcar tracks or rush hour traffic.

4. There are more older people than younger people riding bikes.

5. Helmets are rarely seen except on tourists.

6. Taxis, busses, trucks, and trams all seem to respect cyclists.

7. Bike Share programs are common even in smaller cities.

8. Lycra is not the prevalent dress code.

9. E-bikes are everywhere, and some are quite elegant.

10. There are more nuns riding bikes.

Ok, that was a fake quiz. All of the above are true. The biggest difference is that you see a lot more women riding than men. Mothers texting while riding, older women with groceries, younger women headed to work. They all seem to ride confidently making left hand turns in traffic and riding over rail lines, without looking stressed out. Perhaps this is what accounts for the seeming lack of road rage, the lower levels of testosterone on the streets?

What makes this all the more interesting is that the Italians love their cars (and speed) like almost no other nation on Earth. They have an illustrious tradition that ranges from common Fiats and Alfa Romeos to fancy Ferraris, Maseratis, Bugattis, and many other iconic cars. Car ownership per capita is much higher than any other major European country, despite the fact that they pay more for gas than any other European country (~ $10 a gallon). But they seem to get along on their city roads. Italians taught us to respect and enjoy pizza and pasta. Perhaps they can teach us how to respect and enjoy each other on the streets?

Can Humor Reduce Road Rage?

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Clet Abraham

Clet Abraham
Clet Abraham

Puppy by Jeff Koons
Puppy by Jeff Koons

unknown artist
Untitled (donkey) by Paola Pivi

I was walking through a small town in Tuscany recently and did a double take on this road sign that someone had modified into a witty graphic statement. Two things struck me about it beyond its cleverness. First, that the town was comfortable leaving this road sign in place, rather than freaking out about its mildly subversive nature. Secondly, that humor, while essential to our psychic well-being is rarely designed into our human-made world. Try to find examples of humor in any form of design, products, architecture, landscape, etc. and this becomes obvious.  You might find a witty bumper sticker or billboard, but examples of humor on our streets are quite rare.

This is only logical. When it comes to the design of streets and public spaces in general we must first concern ourselves with issues of safety, no laughing matter. And we sometimes use design to make the urban environment friendlier by lining freeways or streets with trees, creating parks and fountains and public spaces that give us relief from the severe concrete character of the cities. But we stop short of injecting humor. Humor almost always pokes fun at some constituency, so it’s by definition not politically correct thus unlikely to get civic approval. So if we want to find humor we have to create it on our own as French artist Clet Abraham did with this piece.

Abraham has been performing these interventions around Europe, much to the displeasure of many city councils. Abraham does intend a serious message with his art – asking us to think twice about following instructions blindly. He believes that much public signage is done with sensitivity to the urban landscape. This may well be true, but I think the underlying humor far outweighs the didactic message of his work.

How refreshing and optimistic it would be if cyclists and motorists alike made their way through the streets with a sense of humor and with smiles instead of resentment on our faces. Imagine a Critical Mass of Comedy or a city bus with witty messages on its interior and exterior. It might be the antidote to aggression and road rage, or at least one way at coming at this problem.


How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Jeff Speck

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Chicago, IL

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Arezzo, Italy

Walkable City Jeff Speck
New York, NY

Walkable City Jeff SpeckAmsterdam, Netherlands

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Portland, Oregon

A few years ago, I participated in a National Quarterly Forum called the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, where designers and urbanists get together and share insights. I learned a lot there. In fact it was one of the events that inspired me to start PUBLIC.  At that time, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design was run by Jeff Speck, an architect, planner, author, and speaker.  We became friends. That’s the disclosure part of this newsletter.  So if I’m going to tout a book by a personal friend, there better be some pretty good reasons to recommend it. There are many.

First of all, it is quite simply one of the best books about our cities that I’ve ever come across. Secondly, Walkable City could just as easily be called Bikeable City as the same issues pertain.

If you take a copy of Jeff’s book to your local downtown area, situate yourself in a café or (weather permitting) on a bench somewhere and read the first 50 pages while periodically looking up and noticing what’s going on around you ­– the width of the sidewalks, the number of lanes in the street, the parking, the mix of stores and cafés, how fast the cars are going, how many people are on foot or bike – you’ll receive a unique and invaluable urbanist education. You will also be entertained. Jeff is witty, provocative, and appropriately irreverent.

There are many other excellent books that deal with urban issues from Lewis Mumford’s The City in History to Jane Jacobs to Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. These are all excellent and readable but they are lengthy tomes, and likely too much information for many people. Walkable City is a good, quick read. It’s fast-paced, clever, and alarming in parts. Jeff’s overall thesis is that improving our downtowns is as key to our society’s health and well-being as any other action we might embark upon. His insights will challenge liberals and conservatives alike. This is not a doomsday book, as Jeff has as many examples of positive developments as he does critiques. For instance, there is a provocative section on why much of suburbia might become the next slums, and why “white flight” to the suburbs is now turning into “bright flight” back to the cities by young, educated people.

There are thirty substantive reviews on Amazon where Jeff’s book has a 5 star rating (and a current price of $15.88). Here are a few snippets I have culled from the book.

“The real problem with cars is not that they do not get enough miles per gallon, it’s that they make it too easy for us to spread out (sprawl) and encourage forms of development that are inherently wasteful.” Hybrids are not the solution.

“The average American family spends $14K a year driving multiple cars, about 20% of its income. (This figure was 10% in the 1960’s).” For many working class families more money is spent on cars than on housing.

“In these cities, and in most of our nation, the car is no longer an instrument of freedom, but rather a bulky, expensive, and dangerous prosthetic device, a prerequisite to viable citizenship.”

“It would seem that only one thing is more destructive to the health of our downtowns than welcoming cars unconditionally and that is getting rid of them entirely.  The proper response to obesity is not to stop eating, and most stores need car traffic to survive.”

Most of us like driving but hate commuting. Some polls that show that “a 23-minute commute had the same effect on happiness as a 19 percent reduction in income” and another poll where “5 percent of respondents said that they would be willing to divorce their spouse if that meant they could stop commuting and work from home instead”.

We are the least active generation of Americans in history. “Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the American health-care crisis is largely an urban-design crisis, with walkability at the heart of the cure.”  We are fat because we sit in cars rather than walk.

Car crashes have killed 3.2 million Americans, considerably more than all of our wars combined.  It is the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 1 and 34.

If you are book phobic, listen to Jeff on NPR Weekend Edition.

His website is also a Speck of Brilliance.