The most bike friendly city in the world is…

June 30th, 2015

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A happy rider in Copenhagen / Copenhagenize Design Co.

As we approach another 4th of July weekend in the U.S., many of us will get in our cars to enjoy the holiday weekend. If we lived in Copenhagen, it’s likely we’d be choosing two-wheels instead of four to get around. Recently Copenhagen surpassed Amsterdam in the top spot for the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.

This Copenhagenize Index ranking by is no surprise to anyone who has visited this wonderful European city in recent years. Copenhagen’s public streets and spaces are filled with two-wheeled transportation.

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Rush hour in Copenhagen / Copenhagenize Design Co.

Copenhagen is a proof that “if you build it, they will come.” The city’s heavy investment in bicycle-friendly infrastructure makes this mode of transportation easy and accessible for people of all ages.

About 50% of residents commute by bicycle every day in Copenhagen. By comparison in the U.S., about 6% of Portland residents and about 4% of Minneapolis residents commute by bicycle. These cities are considered two of the most enlightened American cities when it comes to bicycling.

One of the biggest reasons Copenhagen’s leaders justify significant investments in bicycling infrastructure is because their policy and political decisions are guided by different methods of accounting for the full social costs of various modes of transportation.

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Clever transportation / Copenhagenize Design Co.

The article “How Copenhagen Became A Cycling Paradise By Considering The Full Cost Of Cars” summarizes this best: “Cars pollute and cause more accidents. So when deciding whether to invest in roads or bike lanes, Copenhagen calculates all of the social costs involved—and bikes win out.”

In addition, as Ben Schiller from Co.Exist writes, “As well as costs and benefits to society, there are also personal costs and benefits, including the time lost or gained from taking a bike or car, and the impact of noise and pollution on quality of life. When these are included in the analysis, cars cost 57 cents per kilometer while bikes come in at 9 cents per kilometer, the paper finds.”

Imagine if we applied a similar approach in the U.S.? Citizens and leaders would be better informed about the significant public subsidies that support our predominant car culture – and the disproportionate, costly impacts the motorized vehicles has on our public streets and spaces. And of course, we know non-motorized transportation is better for the planet and public health.

So as we approach another 4th of July weekend in the U.S. where many of us will get in our cars for weekend getaways, let’s recognize that there’s a higher cost in pursuit of some of those freedoms.

Safer Streets Begin With A Vision

May 5th, 2015

Leah Shahum of Vision Zero

Leah Shahum / Image Credit: Melissa Balmer

Whether biking, walking or driving, people deserve to be safe when moving around their community. It’s a concept few would argue with, but who is actually working to make that happen?

Enter, Vision Zero. It’s a concept created 15 years ago in Sweden with the goal of making zero traffic fatalities or severe injuries a priority in major cities. Now several major cities in United States, including Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco, have adopted Vision Zero as a policy goal.

The Vision Zero Network, recently launched by Leah Shahum, is building a movement to support Vision Zero. We know Leah from her days as executive director of the SF Bike Coalition where she shaped the organization into one of the largest bicycle advocacy groups in the country. Now, at the helm of the Vision Zero Network, we’re confident Leah will bring awareness to a problem that needlessly kills over 30,000 Americans annually, by helping major cities work towards zero in their communities.

We caught up with Shahum to learn more about Vision Zero.

PUBLIC: What is Vision Zero?

Leah: Vision Zero is a new way approach to safe mobility. It lays out the expectation that people deserve to be safe as they move around their community, when they’re walking, bicycling, taking transit or driving.

Vision Zero is a concept created in Sweden about 15 years ago and spreading around the world. Vision Zero is a goal – zero traffic fatalities or severe injuries – as well as a strategy and way of thinking to achieve that goal. Cities across America, including San Francisco, New York City, Seattle and others, are realizing that they can – and must – think and act differently if they are to change the situation in which far too many people are dying needlessly on our roadways.

Vision Zero differs from the traditional approach in three major ways. First, Vision Zero acknowledges that traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable. This is a transformative shift in thinking. You can compare this to the way cultural attitudes have shifted in the past towards preventing drunk driving (zero tolerance) or increasing recycling and other conservation efforts (zero waste).

Second, Vision Zero brings together diverse — and necessary — stakeholders to address a complex social problem. Traditionally, traffic planners and engineers, police officers, policymakers, and public health professionals have not collaborated in meaningful, cross-disciplinary ways to meet shared goals (partly because they literally did not have shared goals for safe streets). Vision Zero acknowledges that there are many factors that contribute to safe mobility — infrastructure, enforcement, individual behavior/education, and policies — and all must be coordinated with a safety-first approach.

And finally, Vision Zero is a data-based approach. Traditionally, improving street safety has involved finger-pointing or resembled a whack-a-mole game more than a coordinated, fact-based strategy. But with the awareness that Vision Zero is raising, communities are starting to treat traffic safety as a public health issue and using data to make decisions.

While we know that people are fallible and will sometimes make mistakes, we can – and must — set up our roadways and transportation systems to make sure that collisions do not end in death or severe injuries.

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Vision Zero in Montreal, Canada / Photo Credit: Payton Chung

PUBLIC: Why are so many cities adopting Vision Zero?

Leah: Cities are realizing that our transportation systems are out of sync with our priorities for increased safety, public health, environmental sustainability and affordability. And local leaders know that they cannot wait for the federal government to come in and change things. This movement for Vision Zero is really coming from the locals, from the ground up, because the issues are so very close to home in our communities.

I also think that city leaders recognize the growing trend of employers wanting to be located in urban environments where their employees can walk, bike, take transit and carshare. They’ve got to honor these choices because this is the way the workforce of America is moving.

And finally, I think a lot of us have been inspired by the changes we’ve seen across the globe that prove that when you build great walking, bicycling and transit infrastructure and set up policies that encourage those ways of moving around, more people choose to do so, which of course is a benefit to the cities, in general. For a long time, the idea of growing biking, walking, and transit trips and decreasing single occupancy vehicle trips seemed impossible to many city leaders, but the proof exists now and leaders are feeling more confident. San Francisco is a great example of that, as private vehicle traffic has decreased in recent years, as biking, walking, transit and rideshare have grown. And there are more car-free households in SF. All of this is happening while the city is growing and the economy is booming.

PUBLIC: 3. After leading the SF Bicycle Coalition for many years, why did you choose to launch the Vision Zero Network?

Leah: Well, I was riding my awesome orange Public bike down Market Street in San Francisco one day….I really do have an awesome orange Public bike (more on that later), but really….

Over the past year and a half since the SF Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF and our partners successfully urged the City of San Francisco to commit to Vision Zero, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of Vision Zero to be a real gamechanger in terms of our communities’ safety and mobility.

First, who can be against safety, right?

Second, the work of Vision Zero includes everyone, all road users, and that’s powerful. This is not a movement that’s aimed just at keeping people safe while they bike or just while they walk or just while they drive. The reality is that most people do a combination of all of these things in a week, and we want them to be safe while doing all of those things. People have a basic right to move safely around their communities. It’s a simple but powerful concept.

And, I’m excited by the idea of different cities pooling their energy and great minds and passion toward a shared goal of Visio Zero. What the Vision Zero Network does is bring together the key stakeholders in cities across America to collaborate and develop and share strategies for what will advance Vision Zero in the urban environment.

While Seattle, San Jose and Washington DC are different places, of course, they also share a great deal of the same challenges and opportunities when it comes to ensuring safe mobility. We have so much to learn from each other. Plus, we can push each other and, together, raise the profile of Vision Zero across the country.

The timing felt right for me to help shape this nascent movement that is so promising and capturing so much attention not just among the “usual suspects” but among a whole new field of important players who need to be involved in this effort for safe mobility for all.

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Sweden Traffic / Photo Credit: Erik Söderström

PUBLIC: You’re currently studying Vision Zero in Europe. How’s that going? What do you say to skeptics who tell you American cities are very different than European cities so you can’t expect the same kind of attention to pedestrians and bicycles in car-centric American cities?

Leah: I’m fortunate to be traveling as part of the German Marshall Fund Urban & Regional Policy Fellowship to research Vision Zero. I’m visiting Berlin, Stockholm and Rotterdam – all in countries that have adopted national Vision Zero strategies, or something similar w/ different names.

To the skeptics – and I totally understand where they’re coming from – I’d explain that what’s interesting me most is not so much how different countries have different cultural attitudes and historical development, which of course they do. One could say, “Oh it’s Europe, it’s different, we’ll never be like that….” And in certain ways, they’d be right.

I think the most valuable lessons are the examples where cities have made their streets dramatically safer in the recent past. For instance, Berlin reduced its traffic fatalities by 80% since the 1970s, while increasing its population. And they’ve tripled the numbers of people biking just in the past 15 years or so. And Berlin’s streets resemble a typical major U.S. city’s more than some of the other European examples that you often hear cited, such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. So how did Berlin do that? We need to understand that and figure out which strategies can transfer to an American environment. Granted, not everything will be replicable in the U.S., but some things will be.

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Green Bike Lanes in San Francisco

PUBLIC: Is Vision Zero anti-car? How do we move beyond the car vs bikes vs pedestrians debate?

Leah: I’m so glad you asked that question. Vision Zero is pro-safety for everyone, whether they’re walking, biking, driving or taking transit. Everyone deserves to be safe as they move around.

Now, we know that, particularly in urban areas, it is people on foot and bike who bear the worst brunt of traffic violence, and we know that it is in automobiles that people bear the greatest risk of hurting others because of the pure weight and force of a motor vehicle. These are basic facts. So, any worthwhile traffic safety strategy needs to focus appropriate energy toward these realities. So, it’s not a surprise that we see cities focusing particular attention on better training professional drivers of large vehicles, who spend many, many hours each day on the road driving large – and sometimes – dangerous vehicles. But of course, safety awareness is important for all of us when we walk, bike or drive regular-size vehicles. We all need to be safe out there, but some ways of moving about bring more risk and deserve more attention.

One of the things that excites me most about Vision Zero is that it is a way to move past the unfortunate silos that many people have placed themselves or others into in the past. It’s a shame that there have been so many arguments in the past about what’s best for “the bicyclists” versus “the drivers” or “the pedestrians.” Those are unhelpful and unrealistic labels. Most people move around in a variety of ways during the week based on what works, at a practical level, for them for each trip. For instance, what’s most convenient or easiest? What’s most enjoyable and feels comfortable? What doesn’t cost too much money?

We probably all know someone, sadly, who was lost in a traffic crash, whether walking, biking or driving. We all want to prevent that from happening to people we love…or to anyone. This is so much bigger than biking. And Vision Zero certainly is not anti-anything, rather, it’s pro-safe mobility for everyone.

PUBLIC: What specific steps can cities take to make streets safer?

Leah: They can explicitly and publicly make safety their number one priority in making decisions about their transportation system. That means that they use a data-based approach to understand where the problem areas and unsafe behaviors are in their community.

And they bring together the range of people have control over safety in their community – that means not just traffic engineers, but also police officers and public health specialists and educators and school officials and the district attorneys and advocates and other community members. And they work together to set priorities that reflect safety as the top goal. That means roadways are designed with a safety-first mantra. And resources are doled safety-first. And traffic enforcement is guided by safety-first, etc, etc.

Is this always going to be easy? Of course not. Because there will continue to be many competing priorities for all of those limited resources. But if a city is serious about keeping its citizens safe – and I would suggest that’s the very basic premise of government – it needs to make the decisions that reflect its priorities.

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Busy Streets Of NYC / Photo Credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly

PUBLIC: What steps can the average person take (like me, for example) to make streets safer?

Leah: Of course, the most important thing we can all do individually is to move safely and predictably out there. We all have responsibility for our own actions, and we can serve as a model to others.

I’d suggest that interested individuals can also start to raise the idea of Vision Zero in their communities by asking their elected leaders where they stand on this issue and prioritizing safe mobility. And talking with your friends and neighbors about the idea. In the end, Vision Zero really is a shift in the way we all think about mobility. Just like we saw a major shift in the way Americans thought about the need to discourage drunk driving or to encourage recycling, we need to evolve our individual and societal expectations for being able to move around safely.

PUBLIC: Can Vision Zero really be achieved?

Leah: Yes. Now that doesn’t mean that we will prevent all traffic collisions, because people will continue to make mistakes…we’re fallible, it’s just the reality. But we absolutely can design systems and set up policies and practices that ensure that when things inevitably, at times, collide, the worst case scenario is not the result. For instance, if everyone were moving about a community no faster than at 15 miles per hour, we would prevent most traffic fatalities. That’s possible. That’s a choice that cities could make. And we’re seeing more people think about moving in that direction.

Plus, setting a bold, clear goal is important to get people thinking differently. By setting the goal of zero, we encourage people to think about it and to ask: “Can we prevent these deaths and injuries?”
The answer is “yes we can” by making certain decisions and taking certain actions. It’s a matter of prioritizing safety.

Americans are, in general, sadly complacent about the major public health crisis we have on our roadways. We need to start shaking people out of this complacently to commit to safe transportation options or, the alternative is the status quo and we continue to lose an average of 30,000 people in this country each year to preventable tragedies. That’s not an alternative.

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Leah and her PUBLIC M8 Mixte bike / Photo Credit Melissa Balmer

PUBLIC: You’ve been riding an Orange PUBLIC mixte for many years. What do you like about this bike and riding in general?

Leah: I absolutely love my bike. First of all, it’s so fun to ride. And so comfortable for everyday city riding.
And, I will admit that I kind of like the admiring looks the bike gets as I cruise around San Francisco. Even after all these years, people still really notice the bike. I love to watch people’s eyes light up and a smile spread across their faces as they look at the bike. My hope, of course, is that they’re thinking, even subconsciously, “Ah, biking, that looks fun, maybe I should give that a try.”

PUBLIC: Do you remember your first bike? If so, please describe it.

Leah: I don’t remember what kind of bike it was, but I really do remember the freedom. I grew up in the suburbs of Florida and having a bike meant I could cruise around to friends’ houses on my own and experience a sense of independence that was a first as a little kid. Even as a kid, I remember somehow feeling “this is important.”

Interview With Designer Eric Heiman

April 14th, 2015

Eric and his PUBLIC ERIC HEIMAN AND HIS PUBLIC BIKE / BY CHRISTINA JIRACHACHAVALWONG

Designers tend to be opinionated, aesthetically conscious and self-professed perfectionists. So when a designer like Eric Heiman selects a PUBLIC bike for his life, we feel especially complimented.

Eric and his business partner, Adam Brodsley run Volume Inc, a design agency that “specializes in creating artifacts, systems and experiences that activate people.” Eric has a background in architecture and music and teaches at California College of The Arts.

Eric has been a part of the PUBLIC family since early on by contributing one of his designs to our PUBLIC works project, and recently designing my new book, See for Yourself. But long before I knew Eric, he knew PUBLIC. He was one of our first customers back in 2009 and still commutes daily on his PUBLIC bike.

Eric was game enough to let us interview him about all things bike and design related.

Read on to learn more about Eric, one of the top talents in design today.

Rob Forbes

 

 

VOLUME INC YBCA ERIC HEIMAN / BY MARIKO REED

PUBLIC: How long have you been riding bikes?

Eric: Since I was a wee pup growing up in small town Pennsylvania.

PUBLIC: Do you remember your very first bike? If so, please describe it.

Eric: Yes. I was 5 or 6 and it was a red Schwinn with a banana seat. My dad put me on it a bit prematurely, and I proceeded to have a traumatic wipeout out on the sidewalk in front of our house. I worked my way back via training wheels for the next few months.

PUBLIC: How did you come to love bikes?

Eric: I think it was more out of necessity than anything else. If I wanted to get from point A to point B (especially in the years before I could drive) outside of walking the bike was the best option. When it wasn’t winter, anyway.

These were the days when we kids could run wild as long as we were home by dinner. It was good exercise, too! I also went through the inevitable “dirt bike” phase of popping wheelies, ramp jumps, etc. Had a few mishaps there, too, and I’m amazed I didn’t get seriously hurt.

Those were the days of ignorance-is-bliss parenting, which needs to come back! Eating dirt as a kid builds character! (Then again, I’m not a parent.) I had a classic blue Schwinn ten-speed all through high school, and then got a Bianchi mountain bike (which, coincidentally, the first design firm I worked at created the graphics for) in college. A bike has been a preferred form of transportation all my life, really.

PUBLIC Works Poster PUBLIC WORKS POSTER BY ERIC HEIMAN

PUBLIC: How did you come by your PUBLIC bike?

Eric: I actually have two. When the first PUBLIC bikes warehouse moved in across from our old studio space on Harrison Street, I walked in one day and was struck by both the bikes and the congenial staff. I had been looking for a new commuter bicycle after years of riding in the city on my mountain bike. After one test ride I was sold!

The second one I received for contributing one of the PUBLIC Works posters, and it is the one I ride now. The first one has become one of the communal bikes we keep around the Volume office for anyone to use.

PUBLIC: How does bicycling fit into your lifestyle?

Eric: Cycling is my main way of getting around town. I usually bike to and from work plus everything in between, client meetings included. It’s my main form of physical exercise. The hills in SF are no joke. I’ll take the fresh air and a little traffic over a gym any day. My car is almost 13 years-old now and has barely 45,000 miles on it. I should probably just sell it already.

PUBLIC: How often do you ride?

Eric: Almost every day, weather permitting. I’ll sometimes do longer rides on weekends, like to the beach and back.

PUBLIC: How does your PUBLIC Bike reflect your personal style?

Eric: I’ve never been a “flashy-style”-type of person—I would never ride a “fixie” bike or wear tennis shoes with a suit, just to name two things that come to mind. (Though I do like to sport orange pants every so often…) But, obviously, I do care about good design and for me that’s always been about a balance of style, function and accessibility to more than just an elite cadre of the high-minded. The PUBLIC bikes check off all these boxes.

PUBLIC: Describe your perfect day on a bike?

Eric: A day when I don’t have to wear layers! Haha. Any day I’m on my bike—minus riding through a rainstorm—is a perfect day, really. I’m easy. It’s such a great grounding and stress-alleviating activity for me.

Also, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is try the bike share programs in other cities. The last time I was in Paris, New York and Minneapolis, I barely took the subways or cabs. Even late at night. You see so much more a bike.

PUBLIC: Are bicycles an important part of the community you live in?

Eric: Relative to other American cities, San Francisco and the East Bay have pretty great bike cultures. But compared to some European cities—Amsterdam, Copenhagen—we have a long way to go before biking is as embedded into everyday life as it is in those cities. Most drivers here still seem to view us as nuisances that are in the way, not as equal partners on the road.

Masters of Design VOLUME INC MASTERS OF DESIGN / BY ROBERT DIVERS HERRICK

PUBLIC: How would you describe your creative style?

Eric: Modern (in the classic sense) and understated, but always with a flash of the idiosyncratic, unique and current. The Steve Zissou-like red cap I often wear and our YBCA campaign from a few years ago both fit this description, I think. Personally, I don’t like to call attention to myself too much. At the same time I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to feel free to express myself as I truly am. So, yes, I will dance like a mad fiend if the right music is on. Or take the karaoke microphone if it’s handed to me and there’s a song I want to sing. In my work, I want to create something unique and engaging, but not at the expense of what it was originally commissioned to do. “Authentic” is a word that is way too overused today, but that’s the ideal I try to hold myself and our work to.

PUBLIC: Where do you find inspiration?

Eric: I tend to be a sponge in terms of inspiration, and the internet age has wrought havoc on my ability to actually stop absorbing and start making things. But I definitely gravitate more towards populist narrative forms—literature, film, music, graphic novels—than I do rarefied art and design (though as a graphic designer, my love of visual culture is hard coded into my DNA). I’m as much interested in the emotional and experiential potential of my work than I am the object nature of it. Getting it out to audiences beyond just other creatives is important, too. At Volume we always like to say, “It’s not what the design is, it’s what it does that’s important.” I like a beautiful, well-crafted item as much as the next person, but I’m equally interested in how design can enable, inspire, and provoke. I love the physical and visual quality of vinyl LPs and sleeves, but I still buy them primarily to enjoy the music. I love my bike because I can ride it (plus that awesome gear-shift mechanism!), not just ogle it behind a showroom window.

Inspiration also comes from just doing the work. It’s harder for me these days as the co-principal of a (depending on the day) 7-10 person studio to focus as much on the actual doing of the work. But when I do get the chance—even if it is just throwing ideas around in our weekly collaborative meetings or doing rough sketches—the best feeling in the world is watching design manifest through making. Today, it feels like there’s never been more books, seminars, email subscriptions, websites, and conferences on how to be happy in life and how to be inspired in your work. I realize I’m very fortunate to have this creative life I’ve made for myself, but for me the solution has always been simple: Figure out the work you want to do and then just do it.

PUBLIC: Any upcoming projects/partnerships/designs that you are excited about?

VOLUME INC YBCA VOLUME INC YBCA PROJECT / BY GABRIEL BRANBURY

Eric: We’re doing a lot more environment and exhibition-related work at Volume now. Even though the scale of these jobs makes them tough to wrangle at times, the larger scale and experiential possibilities are really appealing. I also think the design we collaborated on with your founder Rob Forbes for his book, See for Yourself, turned out well and I’m excited to see go out into the world. (Yes, that was a shameless plug, but I really am proud of that work!)

On a more personal note, I’m trying to get a writing project about my love of music off the ground in the coming year. Not sure what the format will be yet, but I’m guessing it will be influenced in equal parts by Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman, the “33 1/3” book series, and “Freaks and Geeks.”

If you enjoyed this interview with Eric Heiman, check out our interview with designer Erik Spiekermann.

How Seville Rolls

April 6th, 2015

The many bikers of Seville.

“Seville is the poster child of the modern bicycle planning movement. Nothing less.”
Copenhagenize

I was just in Seville, Spain (population 700K) to ride around, study the urban layout and better understand how Seville became a model for enlightened city transportation and a leader in the city bike movement.

The most unique thing about the people who ride bikes in Seville is that they are not very unique. Basically, everybody rides, just as everybody walks, and it’s not a big deal. You see musicians, parents with kids, fashionable women, old dudes hunched over smoking cigarettes, one legged guys, tourists, commuters, the entire gamut. It is the two-wheeled definition of pluralism and democracy.

A flashy fixie in Seville

In the 2013 Copenhagenize survey of the Most Bike Friendly Cities, Seville ranked 4th out of 20 top cities, behind the bike-friendly powerhouses of Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Utrecht. This prestigious ranking on the part of Seville is a result of great political vision and will.

It’s a vision that’s very much in line with that of the Making Cities Liveable movement, a movement that focuses on “designing urban cities in a way that enriches the quality of everyday life of the city’s inhabitants.” Basically, Sevillanos were fed up with the noise, traffic and pollution generated by cars and buses and wanted a more liveable city where they could interact and live more openly.

The city officials heard their concerns and changes were made. Bike share programs were implemented and buses were replaced by light rail. (Horse drawn carriages were allowed to stay.) The results of these changes were impressive. The bike share program in Seville rose in usage from .5% in 2006 to 7% in 2013, according to Copenhagenize. And there is now over 180 miles of pleasant green bike track to ride along. I rode along it and was impressed by the robustness of it and high amount of usage.

Cool bike dividers, left. Seville’s bike share bikes, right.

Safety is always a key issue in biking. Curvy lanes go all around Seville, sometimes in parallel with sidewalks and sometimes crossing streets. Yet to keep things safe, there are cool little concrete markers and abundant signage.

Sane and respectful crosswalks of Seville.

In addition to the signage, people in Seville seem to have respect for pedestrians. Cars don’t whiz around at high speeds nor do they assume that their rights are more important than others. And everybody observes crosswalks. You will note that few cyclists wear helmets (a fact that’s true for most cities where infrastructure is set up to respect cyclists). Kids under 16 are required to wear helmets. It’s just very sane and civilized.

Seville isn’t new to this transportation thing. Magellan embarked from Spain on his first voyage to circumnavigate the globe. And while the miles of bike lanes in Seville aren’t enough for global navigation, it’s impressive to see how this Spanish city has made incredible strides in biking infrastructure and urban planning. It’s a place of civility and quality, and in my mind one of the most modern city designs in the world.

Happy riding and traveling,

Rob Forbes

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Rob an his rented mixte at the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art, Seville.

 

Erik Spiekermann: Type Geek, Bike Geek

March 18th, 2015

Erik's bike collection in Berlin

Since day one, many designers have been involved in shaping PUBLIC into what it is today. But none of them are more fanatical about bikes than Erik Spiekermann. He’s the only guy I know who has more bikes (a total of 13) and rides more often than I do. He rides daily in either of his two bike centric residences in Berlin, Germany and Tiburon, California.

Erik and I go back about a decade, starting when I had him design some house numbers for DWR. I learned then that he was opinionated about many things and a perfectionist in everything he touches. He contributed to the core elements of the PUBLIC brand including our logo and the original stripes on our bikes. He is a world renowned designer with numerous awards and typefaces under his belt, a master Tweeter, a modernist extraordinaire and a good friend.

Below is our interview with Erik where he shares how both design and bikes inform his life. Enjoy.

Rob Forbes

PUBLIC: Do you remember your first bike? If so, please describe it.

Erik: Yes. My neighbor gave it me when I was about 10. I painted it green and it had silver spokes and no gears. It had just one little rubber pad for a brake on the front wheel. And it was too tall for me so I couldn’t sit on the saddle but had to stick one leg under the crossbar to get to the other pedal. All that said, it got me to school.

PUBLIC: How did you come to love bikes?

Erik: They offered independence. I would cover distances that were too far and boring to walk and I could carry things without effort, like books, to school. If the weather got really bad, I would go and take a tram. So we never needed a car (not that we had one while I lived with my parents). My dad drove a 20-ton truck and I learnt to drive on one of them.

The main thing about a bike for me has always been that I use them all the time, not just for sports and not dressed in Spandex. I get on my bike in whatever I’m wearing, even if it is a Tuxedo for a posh reception. It is the most efficient and fun way to get around.

PUBLIC: How often do you ride?

Erik: Every day. In Berlin, I take my bike to work and for errands, including shopping (that’s why I need different bikes for different tasks). In London, I cover distances much faster than I would by public transport. Here in Tiburon, I take my bike to the ferry over to San Francisco and run my errands there on my PUBLIC D8. And we ride the Paradise Loop as often as we can on our steel road bikes. But I wish I had more reasons to use the bike every day.

2010 PUBLIC Stripes

PUBLIC: You designed the original identity stripes featured on every PUBLIC bike. Please talk to us a little about your inspiration for the stripes.

Erik: Stripes are a classic bicycle theme and also prevalent in other sports (Adidas et al). They are a good way to identify a bike without it taking over the whole frame, like the classic bike brands do. Stripes work well on bike tubes where there is a lack of real estate. The stripes can be adapted in colour and frequency and also used on other media. It’s more subtle than repeating a logo.

PUBLIC: Why do you have 13 bikes?

Erik: They are in 4 locations (1 Amsterdam, 2 London, 2 SF, 8 Berlin) and most serve a different purpose. A few are just there because they’re beautiful.

PUBLIC: How does bicycling fit into your lifestyle?

Erik: I ride to work in Berlin and I get around on a bike in the other cities as well. Just practical.

PUBLIC: Describe your perfect day on a bike in Germany?

Erik: Going to the studio, running errands. Not a special effort, no spandex gear, no special shoes, just moving around the city.

Erik on a PUBLIC bike prototype.

PUBLIC: How does your PUBLIC bike reflect your personal style?

Erik: It’s practical and effortless to use. It has a few gears for San Francisco and a luggage rack to carry my shopping and other gear.

PUBLIC: What does the word “public” mean to you?

Erik: Bikes are for everybody, not just for sports

PUBLIC: Where do you find inspiration?

Erik: Life. Travel, people, read, listen.

Poster designed by Erik for PUBLIC.

PUBLIC: You mention that Apple could do better than Helvetica. What font would you suggest?

Erik: One that I would design for them. A lot of people are using my Fira typeface as system font on Apple Yosemite. We originally designed Fira for Firefox/Mozilla and it is now Open Source. The hack for the system replacement is on Github.

PUBLIC: Any upcoming projects/ partnerships/ designs that you are excited about?

Erik: Yes, a letterpress studio in Berlin.

PUBLIC: Anything else you’d like to add?

Erik: Bikes are practical, fun and healthy. They get you around, you see things and they make you feel good.

Cities Experiment Going Car-Free

January 24th, 2015

Image by Chris Yunker via Flickr

We recently ran across an article called “7 Cities That Are Starting To Go Car-Free,” in Fast Company. As urban cities become denser with more people and cars, the article raises the question – are so many cars really needed or do they just cause more congestion and degrades our quality of life?

The article talks about the city of Milan (shown above) that’s going so far as to offer free public transit vouchers to commuters who pledge not head to the office via their car. Check out the rest of the cites that are experimenting with this concept in the Fast Company article.

Image by Sergio Ruiz via Flickr

Over the holidays in San Francisco, the city experimented with this concept by transforming a few blocks of one of the busiest streets in the downtown area of the city, Stockton Street, into a car-free oasis (see image above). The result? People loved it for providing a welcome respite smack in-between the most traffic-laden streets of San Francisco.

Image by Aaron Bialick via StreetsBlog SF

We can think of a few other streets in San Francisco that might be better without cars entirely, like Powell Street pictured above. The confluence of cars, taxis and (because it’s San Francisco) iconic cable cars make it not only a mess for vehicles, but pedestrians as well. SF Streets Blog reiterates this in the article, “Auto-Clogged Powell Street Could Be a Car-Free Haven,” where they make a valid case for why this street is ripe for transforming into living pedestrian area.

Are there streets in your city that would be better served if cars were removed from the equation? Use #publicbikes on social media and let us know.

Why Public Streets Went To The Cars

January 22nd, 2015


What if you didn’t have to legally be in a crosswalk to cross the street? If you could just cross the street whenever you wanted – without waiting for a green light or a car to pass. Basically, imagine if jaywalking wasn’t a crime?

100 years ago this was the case. Adults could cross the streets without looking both ways and children could play in them freely. The shot above of Manhattan in 1914 illustrates the streets as open and active public spaces.

Most of us don’t question why jaywalking is illegal. We don’t because crosswalks and green lights are advisable in this day and age if you don’t want to get run over by a car. It’s just the nature of roads that rules need to be established for safety, right? Not exactly.

The reason streets were redefined as being owned by cars instead of public spaces, and the origin and negative connotation of the word “jaywalking” is a result of a successful and agressive marketing campaign staged by auto makers and manufacturers in the 1920’s.

As cars started to enter the scene in the mid-1920s (image above) people started to get hurt. Namely, the children and the elderly who had been using the streets freely before cars came onto the scene, were getting killed. Because of this dramatic spike in deaths, cars became demonized.

And the car industry wasn’t happy about this. So, they launched an agressive marketing campaign that painted the pedestrian who was silly enough to walk out in front of cars, as the fool.

A “jay” was another word for a “country bumpkin” or a “hick.” Someone who clearly didn’t know how to behave when in a city. The auto-industry created the term “jay-walking” to refer to this type of city person who didn’t know the proper way to behave when around cars. They used this term in their campaigns and went so far as to stage demonstrations with clowns and actors jaywalking across streets with cars nudging them to illustrate what a backwards practice walking across the street was.

For the full story, read “The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of jaywalking” via Vox.

Snow & Tell: Snow Informing How We Use Public Space

January 12th, 2015

When we think of snow, many of us think about snowboarding, sledding, or a beautiful natural winter landscape.

But another cool (pun intended) feature of snow is how it acts as an “urban usage map.” The way cars make tracks around and through snow shows how much public space is used and unused by cars. Is there room for sidewalk extensions for pedestrians? Could car lanes be narrowed or median greening be added? Snow can literally show us the answer.

This video from Streetsfilm does a great job explaining how snow can reveal a lot about mobility and how public spaces are utilized in cities.

As Clarence Eckerson from Streetsfilm told the BBC: “The snow is almost like nature’s tracing paper. It’s free. You don’t have to do a crazy expensive traffic calming study. It provides a visual cue into how people behave.”

Through the visual storytelling in the article “What Snow Tells Us About Creating Better Public Spaces on E. Passyunk Avenue” you can see how snowfall in Philadelphia informs how public space could be better utilized. Notice how much public space could be rededicated to people over cars.

A phenomenon of urban snowfall is naturally created “sneckdowns,” or snow neckdowns. A neckdown is a curb extension, a traffic calming measure that involves sidewalk widening, narrowing car roads and making streets wider for pedestrians. The word “sneckdown” is a play on the concept of neckdown, but with snow.

For more on the phenomena of sneckdowns check out this article one Streetsfilm.

So when you’re walking, biking, or driving around in the your city during or after snowfall, pay attention to the snow on the ground. It might tell you a lot about how your streets and public spaces could be changed to make them more people-friendly.

Impeccable. Indestructible. Individual. Freitag.

December 1st, 2014

When it comes to chic, bulletproof gear that goes with cycling, there are a few brands that rise to the top. In saddles its Brooks. In apparel it’s Rapha. In bags it’s Freitag. Freitag is a Swiss company that has set the standard in bag production with their elegant, unique and functional products. Each bag is crafted from truck tarps, making them unique and virtually indestructible.

Five years ago I visited the Freitag headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland (shown left). Their flagship store and factory is created entirely out of recycled freight containers and has become a kind of architectural icon. Fitting for a company whose products are iconic as well. I bought a few products on that visit, and I have been a passionate customer ever since. That’s my green bag shown below left. Like all their products they just get better over time.

Just last week we launched Freitag products our Hayes Valley Store. There’s a terrific selection of popular styles there that range anywhere from $32-$340. These make great gifts for others as well as yourself. If you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to swing by and check out the collection.

What makes a Freitag a Freitag?

The Freitag company was started by the Freitag brothers. Both were designers and cooked up the idea for these bags while they were students, 20 years ago. Listen to an interview with Markus, one of the Freitag brothers. Since starting the company, the brothers have built a reputation that’s based on a commitment to sustainable processes, impeccable design, and legendary quality.

Of course, by now there are numerous imposters selling lookalike product, but Freitag bags are truly the original. More and more companies are getting on the upcycled product bandwagon and you could argue that Freitag paved the way. Learn more about the Freitag production process.

Here are 5 reasons why Freitag stands above the rest.

1 | INDIVIDUAL

Each bag is custom. Based on the inherent words, textures and colors found on each unique piece of fabric, a team of designers works together to design each bag individually.

2 | SUSTAINABLE

The fabric used for each bag comes from truck tarps.  This upcycled material is incredibly strong and durable and the reason why we call these bags “indestructible.” All tarps are cut, washed, designed and sewn into bags in the Freitag factory in Zurich.

3 | FUNCTIONAL

Not only are these bags made of  impermeable fabric, but they are smartly constructed for everyday wear. Their straps will stand up the the toughest use and the velcro closures are super strong. Don’t fear using your Freitag bag all day and in any weather conditions.

4 | GUARANTEED TO LAST A LIFETIME

The materials and construction are top-notch, but if for any reason you need to, you can send your Freitag product back if it needs repairs.

5 | CHIC

It’s very rare to a find a company making industrial-grade products that are this fashionable. Their products are frequently seen on the backs of both fussy designers and hard-core cyclists all over Europe.

We are delighted and privileged to introduce Freitag to the Bay Area and hope you can come by our Hayes Valley Store and check these out. We do have a limited selection and the sooner you come by the more likely you will find a piece with the colors and graphic sensibility that suits your personality.

Best,

Rob Forbes

Founder, PUBLIC

 

WeiWei Good

October 27th, 2014

Every now and then a person or an event comes along that makes us appreciate just how profound and provocative the combination of art and public space can be. Usually it’s an artist that shapes that vision. I have had a few peak experiences in my life to support this, like when I saw Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC and Donald Judd’s works in Marfa for the first time. Both of these installations have made permanent impressions on me.

Just a few weeks ago I had a similarly profound experience on Alcatraz. Artist Ai Weiwei was recruited by Cheryl Haines (SF Art Gallery owner and FOR-SITE founder) to use Alcatraz as a location for his artistic and political expression.

Ai Weiwei is well known internationally for his art installations. He has used the bicycle as a metaphor in these installations in Tokyo, Taiwan and Italy. This amazing exhibit, currently on display at the Palazzo Franchetti in Venice is a great example.

The installations on Alcatraz do not incorporate bikes, but they contain many of the fundamental themes relevant to bikes, freedom being at the core of this.

Much has been written about this phenomenal show in the media, including the thorough article from The New York Times “Art Man of Alcatraz: Ai Weiwei Takes His Work to a Prison” that includes a terrific slide show as well.

There are seven installations total on Alcatraz. They range in scope and depth from porcelain flowers in toilets (shown left) to sound systems in jail cells. All must be experienced first-hand to be appreciated. They are not easily summarized.

The Lego installation has received a lot of media attention. It features over 176 Lego portraits of many “prisoners of conscience” that have been jailed, tortured or like Ai Weiwei, prevented from escape (like the inmates of Alcatraz). It includes people like Edward Snowden and many other less well know “dissidents.”

I found this installation particularly powerful upon learning that Ai Weiwei intended this to not only be impactful to adults, but children as well. Many children visit as tourists with their parents. Ai Weiwei hopes to get inside their little minds. How many artists take on the challenge of provoking thought in adults and kids alike?

Alcatraz is a legendary prison with an inherent comment on public space that’s compelling to visit on its own. But these installations take the experience of being there up to another level. It’s worth coming to SF just to see this show. Kudos to Ai Weiwei and Ms. Haines for pulling off the San Francisco event of the year, in my humble opinion, that rivals the Golden Gate Bridge in drama.

Ai Weiwei’s installations are currently on display on Alcatraz through April 26. Tickets aren’t easy to come by, but you can book yours here.