ABOUT | BLOG | PRESS | CONTACT888-450-0123Items: 0

Archive for the ‘Urban Design’ Category

Better City Spaces. Why Should it take an Earthquake?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think The Unthinkable: Cities Without Cars

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

CicLAvia 2013

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

Fort Mason Parking Lot, San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iconoclastic Crosswalks in Montreal

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Roadsworth Street Art

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

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

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

Monday, January 20th, 2014

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

Lord Norman Foster Elevates Cycling in London

Friday, January 10th, 2014

London SkyCycle Bike Highway Concept

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

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

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

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

SkyCycle concept video by Room60 for Exterior Architecture

2014 Wish: More Public Space for People

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Public Space in Rome

I had the good fortune to spend time in Rome this year. Rome is a remarkable city for a number of reasons.  One reason is the extraordinary public spaces that are peppered throughout the city, and filled with locals and tourists alike. It is almost as if the city is an amalgamation of public spaces that are held together by walkways and roads.  And even along many streets the space is shared quite elegantly between cars and pedestrians.  This overall design creates a friendly, democratic and inspirational atmosphere, and is such a contrast to many modern cities where streets and parking areas often take up most of the public space.
What does this have to do with bikes and PUBLIC and a year-end message? Everything. The mission of PUBLIC is to encourage us to think more carefully about our urban environments and spaces, and to help people connect with them more personally. Bikes are a good way to do this. It’s all about making our cities more livable and more loveable.
Santa Cruz Parking Lot / Millennium Park, ChicagoI took this shot of a parking lot in Santa Cruz, California, just after returning from Rome. The parking lot is adjacent to the main beach in Santa Cruz and next to a beautiful stretch of coastline. It is one of the most desirable pieces of community space in the city. But like so many parking lots across America, (and we have many in San Francisco) it sits vacant, lonely and depressed for most of its life. It was a mistake to put it there.  
Here is to a new year of undoing mistakes and getting more people, smiles and spirit in our public spaces and in our private lives. There truly is so much good news about this occurring in the US and around the world. We often cite the Highline in New York, Millennium Park in Chicago, and Ferry Plaza in San Francisco, but there are many lower profile developments all across the US that undo suburban sprawl and revitalize our cities.
My favorite recent development in this regard came the other day from the NY Times. Ex-Mayor Bloomberg is taking his smarter city show on the road:
“Michael R. Bloomberg, determined to parlay his government experience and vast fortune into a kind of global mayoralty, is creating a high-powered consulting group to help him reshape cities around the world long after he leaves office.” Read the full article here.
Like any big city Mayor, you can find policies enacted by former Mayor Bloomberg to critique, but there is no denying that he left an indelible stamp on New York City’s urban landscape, including rolling out bike share and increasing bike lanes. Like the Medici’s Popes and political power brokers of ancient Rome, this guy is really committed to making better cities the focus of his life’s work.  Lucky for us, he just won’t go away.
Here at PUBLIC we don’t plan on going away either. Thanks to all of you we’ll be rolling ahead in 2014.

A $10 Clever (and Poignant) Gift for Anyone

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

MendeDesign Gift WrapJeremy Mende

Tired of the same kitschy gift-wrap for the holidays? Here is an alternative and a clever and poignant gift for anyone who appreciates bikes, cities, design, humor, wit, and graphic brilliance. It’s that type of gift-wrap that you may want to use, fold carefully and re-use, adding an element of sustainability to an already brilliant design. And it reminds us that it’s the idea – not the gift itself – that matters. You could wrap up a bottle of wine or a dog bone with this design and make someone very happy, and the color and pattern work well for whatever holidays you celebrate. Get a closer look here.

Visual designer Jeremy Mende came up with this pattern for our PUBLIC Works project, and we adapted it for the holidays. You have to look very closely at this piece to appreciate it. He has depicted five typical local urban scenarios, a romantic park scene, a bicyclist avoiding a car door, a mom riding with her child, a woman pedaling past a car accident, and a locked bike missing its wheels. Although the urban imagery is realistic – and even violent – Mende has disguised this in a decorative sweet blue and white toile pattern, like something you might find on Victorian china or wallpaper at the Ritz. Good designers can be cleverly subversive and Mende excels in this genre. His work often involves such ironies and plays on traditional and “public” conceptions of design. More details here.

There are 25 other posters and some t-shirts from world reknowned graphic designers that are part of our PUBLIC Works project, and these make sweet gifts also. See all of our PUBLIC Works designs here.

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.

We’re Hiring. Help Build Walkable (and Bikeable) Cities

Friday, October 18th, 2013

If you want to know why I started PUBLIC, and why we feel constantly excited and accomplished about getting more people on bikes, watch this TED video. Jeff Speck articulates the reasons why the movement to make our cities more walkable and bikeable is perhaps one of the most important social initiatives in the US for the 21st century.

Jeff is a hero of mine, and a mentor. I have written about him and his recent book, Walkable City in a prior PUBLIC Opinion essay. I was privileged to work with him for two years when he headed up the NEA sponsored Mayors’ Institute on City Design, where designers, urbanists, and mayors get together and help solve design problems facing modern US cities.

Jeff’s talk is about ways the US can be more economically resilient, healthy, and environmentally sustainable by making our cities more walkable and bikeable. And he is not afraid to challenge some major issues with the path of development the US took in the 20th century. Watch this to learn why “the worse idea we’ve ever had [in the US] is suburban sprawl.”

Jeff Speck on Walkable Cities at TED

We’re Hiring

We are recruiting for several positions listed below. Additionally, we always have projects that need to be managed by self-directed part-time employees. If you have a friendly demeanor, curiosity, a college degree, solid computer skills, and a desire to change the world, please send us a note of interest and resume to jobs@publicbikes.com. All inquiries will be kept confidential, and we will follow up in more detail with any qualified applicant.

Online Marketing Associate – Part-Time or Full-Time

This person will take ownership for the success of our online marketing program and its impact on the overall growth of our online sales channel. This position could be a part-time contract or possibly full-time employee job based in San Francisco. You will use current online marketing technology, both internal and outsourced, to implement programs to enhance traffic (SEM and SEO), Google Analytics, and customer insights/merchandising. Pay depends on experience. Find out more and apply here.

IT Technical Support – Part-Time

This part-time IT Technical Support Contractor based in the San Francisco Bay Area will have technical know-how to serve as our in-house IT support point person related to PUBLIC’s technology systems, including our retail point of sales, e-commerce and inventory management, and basic office connectivity technology troubleshooting in a mixed Macintosh and Windows environment. This person will be familiar with all information systems used at PUBLIC, including hardware and software. Pay depends on experience. Learn more and apply here.

Retail Store Sales Associates – Part-Time

We are looking for part-time Retail Store Sales Associates immediately who are able to work on weekends and already be located in the Bay Area. Retail experience and references are essential, but you do not need to be a bike mechanic. For more information visit our website.

Buy a House Get a Free Bike

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


You would have to be hiding under a rock to not notice the increased number of bikes on the streets in major cities across the US (and round the world). From bike share programs to the creation of bike lanes and biking infrastructure, major cities like NYC, Washington, D.C., Chicago and SF have been rolling out programs.

PUBLIC is pleased to play a part in these progressive developments. Now we’re also seeing residential suburban communities following suit, and this bodes well for the greening of America. 
One new development is a new urban village down the SF Peninsula in San Mateo where 93 Shea Homes buyers are getting PUBLIC bikes. The old site was the Bay Meadows Race track, which closed its operations five years ago. So where horses used to run there will now be bikes rolling along.

Bay Meadows touts itself as a development where “Life in Motion” is celebrated and they’re truly living up to this vision.
 Here’s what Janice Thacher, partner at Wilson Meany, developer of Bay Meadows, had to say:

“In collaboration with Shea Homes, we are thrilled to provide each Landsdowne homeowner the gift of two-wheel transportation. Bay Meadows offers an innovative and sustainable new way to live, and PUBLIC Bikes closely shares our philosophy. With their new bikes, Landsdowne residents will take advantage of local San Mateo attractions, as well as Bay Meadows’ bike-friendly experience highlighted by trails, parks, and access to on-site retail and office space.”

How cool is that? Ninety-three new homeowners can go grocery shopping nearby using their PUBLIC bikes, and even access the nearby Caltrain station and take their bikes to San Francisco or elsewhere.

If you’re interested in checking out these Landsdowne homes, you can visit model residences daily from 12pm – 6pm. The units located on the Hillsdale Caltrain line seem especially desirable for people needing quick, smart access to San Francisco.