Quantifying Civilization

July 9th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brings us to bikes.

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

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

Warehouse Sale this Saturday

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

Orange Takes Over in Holland

July 2nd, 2010

Holland appropriated the color orange for its national identity centuries ago. How that occurred is not nearly as interesting as the fact they continue to stand by it and identify with it in unison. They don’t have blue states or red states in Holland; it’s just one big orange State. What other country has pulled… Read more »

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Bracelet with orange pom-pomOrange banners contrasting against ornate, Danish doorsEven lamp posts look fabulous with orange boasPublic Orange M3Great design for a cafe bench, made even better with a flashy orange wheelOrange banners adorning a city street

Holland appropriated the color orange for its national identity centuries ago. How that occurred is not nearly as interesting as the fact they continue to stand by it and identify with it in unison. They don’t have blue states or red states in Holland; it’s just one big orange State. What other country has pulled this off an aesthetic cultural coup like this? A color is so much more provocative than a windmill as a national identity. If they had picked pastel green we would not be so impressed. Orange has far more personality, like the Dutch themselves.

We ended up in Amsterdam last week on a bike trip while the World Cup was in full swing. We watched Holland play Slovakia one afternoon with our Dutch pals at a local bar. It was a riot of orange, inside, outside, and all around. The servers were all wearing the orange dresses that have become infamous for the scandal that ensued in South Africa and got busted by Budweiser. The bar atmosphere was more like a carnival than a sports event and there were as many women as men watching the match. The World Cup, and orange, has this effect—it makes most people convivial, energetic and social.

The city was also playground for the color orange. There were the obvious banners and t-shirts. Lamps, trees and public monuments were wrapped up but more interesting was the discreet use, like this orange poof on a stylish woman’s bracelet or designer Marcel Wanders’, a soccer fan, orange bling on his necklace. With all the orange mania you lose the ability to distinguish between soccer specific orange and everyday orange. You see it in common objects like milk cartons, tarps and wheel hubs. Orange got the World Cup bump, and for this we thank history, Holland and the World Cup.

PUBLIC Bike in Orange

Color theorists say that orange has special powers to make us more creative, curious and hungry. We can’t say for sure. We selected orange for our bikes for reasons that are entirely personal. But since our best selling bike is orange, we know that we are not alone in our adoration. In fact, we have run out of stock in certain sizes of PUBLIC M’s. But if we do not have your model and size in stock you can place an order for fall and receive a 10% discount for the next delivery. We’ll plan to be back in stock for Halloween and certainly before the Holiday colors kick in.

Stripes Sale

Our cute little a summer sale ends on July 11th with the last World Cup match. This is your chance to be part of the World Cup action. (Holland plays Brazil tomorrow.)

Hiring: Web Producer

We have an open position for some local talent. Please send referrals our way. They don’t have to love orange but they have to love bikes.

See more of our Orange Gallery on our Flickr account.

 
Marcel's jewelryShowing their orange at the localMarcel Wanders & companionOrange can make just about any object more attractiveYoung, orange-shirted pedalerRiding on the front of a bike with dad and an orange boaAn orange cap adds some pizazz to a mild cartonShopping around town with an orange skirtFixed gear rider wearing orange t-shirt

David Byrne’s “Creation in Reverse” at TED

June 18th, 2010

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

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

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

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

Espress Lane: Baristas and Bicycles

June 14th, 2010

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

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

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

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

Ride Studio Café Serves coffee and PUBLIC bikes

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

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

Caffeine Powered Bike Shops

The First Lady of Livable Cities

June 7th, 2010

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

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Meet Janette Sadik-Khan

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

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

Consider these recent New York City milestones:

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

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

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

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

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

Hear Sadik-Khan and join PUBLIC in Copenhagen

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