Building Bike-Friendly Housing

August 31st, 2015


Bay Meadows, CA

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

Bay Meadows in San Mateo, CA


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

The Shipyard in San Francisco, CA


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

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


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

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

Repurposing Public Space

August 24th, 2015


PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

Before PROXY, 2006 / Photo By Matt Baume

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

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

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


PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

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

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

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


PROXY / Rendering by envelope A+D

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


PROXY / Photo by Anne Hamersky

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

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


PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

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

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


PROXY / Photo by envelope A+D

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


Superkilen / Photo by Superflex

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

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

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


High Line / Photo by David Berkowitz

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

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

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

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

The most bike friendly city in the world is…

June 30th, 2015


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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


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




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: 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.


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?


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.”

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


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.