We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal with absolutely no travel agenda other than to walk around and hang out in a European city and culture that is a little off the travel radar. Lisbon has a lot in common with San Francisco physically. Both cities are on the water with hilly, dramatic views, and a photogenic orange bridge. Both are great walking cities but spread out enough so that you need some kind of public transportation to get the feel of the entire city.
It’s challenging to see Lisbon by bicycle – if you want to think or talk while you’re seeing it – because the streets are heavily cobbled with rail lines slashing through them. And the hills are so steep that even kids walk their bikes up them.
We were tipped off that the #28 Streetcar was a good way to get an overview of the city. When one pulled up to our stop, I loved its canary yellow color and the fact that locals and tourists alike were hanging out of the windows and smiling. Inside it had the feel of a vintage motorboat more than a tram, with dark wood paneling, polished metal hardware, and neat design details.
The #28 zooms up and down around the city taking some sharp, jostling turns. It reminded me of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland more than public transportation. Fun. You could break an arm if you left it hanging too far out the window, but that little bit of risk just heightened the experience. Everyone fights for the right to a seat with a window that opens and closes manually. And everyone – including the locals – seemed to be getting a kick out of riding it. It was a treat, like taking vaporetti in Venice or the ferries in the Bay Area.
I live right on a cable car line in San Francisco, but I never take it. Our cable cars resemble the Lisbon #28 in character, but they are slow, inconvenient, unreliable, and they stop way too often. They are simply not fun to ride unless you’re a tourist, and walking is usually faster. What would it take it take to get me on a local cable car? Speed I guess. If it zipped downtown, I might use it regularly. But the same thing that would attract me (speed) would probably scare away the tourists.
Convenience and speed obviously comes first with public transportation, but maybe there are other design criteria like ‘color,’ ‘fresh air’, even ‘fun’, that should be taken more seriously? Would I have taken the #28 if it were a sober modern grey or beige with no manual windows and no thrill to the ride? Not a chance. Would I take BART more often if it were less dowdy? Maybe. Do you think our Department of Transportation design departments would laugh at me for suggesting that we should make BART more colorful, retrofit some manual windows for fresh air, and engineer some thrills into the ride? Definitely. Do charm and efficiency need to be mutually exclusive? No. This is why we ride bikes.
Lisbon has a lot more to offer than the Yellow #28. The cobbled streets and sidewalks make pattern a part of everyday excursion. The diversity and color in the tiles and buildings are a few of the unique details to the city. But you can’t see most of them from the #28 – it goes too fast.
See more of our Lisbon photos here.
Dutch Bike Company Seattle
Interior of the Dutch Bike Company in Seattle
Dutch Bike Company Seattle is known as “importers and retailers of the finest European city bicycles.” We’re proud that you can now test ride and buy a PUBLIC bike in Seattle at this fabulous retailer. Much of our inspiration comes from Europe. We designed our PUBLIC bikes as an alternative to the authentic Dutch bikes that we love – ours are lighter in weight, typically offer more gears, more vibrant colors, and sizes for every person. We continue to add more test ride locations around the country.
PARK(ing) Day on Sept. 17
One of our favorite days in the city is the annual PARK(ing) Day. This year’s PARK(ing) Day is on Friday, Sept. 17. PARK(ing) Day started in 2005 by our friends at Rebar, who are some of the most creative urban designers and planners we’ve come across. We’re teaming up with our friends from Bike Basket Pies and Nomad’s Kitchen to convert a few parking spots near our office as temporary picnic areas. We’ll have tables and chairs – and a bookshelf with reading materials to inspire visitors to read about our world of design and bicycles. We’ll have a few other surprises too. Come visit us at 123 South Park on Friday and share meal with our PUBLIC posse.