That Blind Spot

December 31st, 2010

When we look in the mirror that reflects the world we live in, there’s a blind spot – we can’t see the cars. We’ve gotten so used to cars dominating our streets and landscape that in many respects, we don’t see how much they affect our everyday experience. Even in a ‘progressive’ place like Bolinas,… Read more »

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View of Bolinas

Bolinas

View of Bolinas

Bolinas

South Park in San Francisco

South Park

South Park in San Francisco

South Park

When we look in the mirror that reflects the world we live in, there’s a blind spot – we can’t see the cars.

We’ve gotten so used to cars dominating our streets and landscape that in many respects, we don’t see how much they affect our everyday experience.

Even in a ‘progressive’ place like Bolinas, CA, a beach town north of San Francisco where the locals tear down road signs that direct traffic towards their town, the main street is sadly an oversized asphalt parking lot. The width of the grey street dwarfs any other element. One must wade through (or just not see?) a mess of cars in order to experience their ‘unspoiled’ town. Cars have carved such an uncontested place in our landscape that just imagining them not there takes a real effort. In fact, the act of imagining a car free downtown Bolinas might take more energy than parking a couple blocks off the main drag. This isn’t Mideast Peace we’re talking about. The problem is the car has us all hypnotized into thinking it has to be, deserves to be, there. It doesn’t, does it?

I notice this hypnosis everyday outside our store in the progressive South Park neighborhood. Many visitors to South Park are captivated by the European charm of our neighborhood with a beautiful park nestled between vibrant eateries, residential buildings, and storefronts.

Yet an eye level survey, from almost any angle in South Park, will reveal that cars take up most of the visual space. It’s hard to even see the architecture or the people in the park. The sidewalk is pinched to a point where you can fit in one petite café table, barely. There is not enough space for legal bike racks, so there are none. None. Except the ones in our no cars allowed driveway.

We inch our way sideways between tightly fitted car bumpers when we walk into the park. I guess we can take a little comfort in the fact that we’re turning sideways to slide between Prius’s rather than SUV’s? Often we just don’t see what’s in front of our noses (or pressed against our thighs). Like many cities, San Francisco has a long way to being “progressive’ with respect to transportation and community design. But as a city we’re moving in the right direction with more parklets and efforts to redesign our streetscape, like Great Streets.

Yet despite all the smaller, progressive efforts to reclaim our public spaces, our broader public policy (also subject to a blind spot) stumbles along as if cars, asphalt, and pollution are invisible inevitabilities. Two recent examples are the Gulf oil spill and the recent Caldecott Tunnel in our East Bay. We blame and demonize BP but completely fail to see that it is we who create the demand for the product that they screwed up trying to get for us. In the case of the Caldecott Tunnel, we are spending $420 million taxpayer dollars to encourage more cars to pile into the already heavily congested East Bay and Bay Bridge traffic snarl. Effective mass transit and a higher tax on oil would get us part way to a solution.

We’re certainly not anti-car. In fact, some of us at PUBLIC own a car and ride a bicycle. But we at PUBLIC bicycle as our first transportation option in the city because it’s faster and more convenient – and more fun – than driving a car. We think the most livable cities will create the infrastructure to make bicycling the de facto, faster, convenient, and safer option for getting around. And we think the healthiest and most vibrant cities will be the ones moving away from the car-centric land-use policies of the past several decades.

Research indicates that 40% of all trips are less than two miles from home and 82% of trips, five miles or less, are made by car. Imagine if more people who are now driving to their neighborhood store, school, or to work switched over to bicycles?

What to do? Self-righteousness makes us feel a little better for a few minutes, but it gets us nowhere. If all politics are local, I guess we’ll begin in South Park. At the very least, we’ll try to get some bike racks there for starters and maybe paint them some bright colors that can be glimpsed occasionally through the cars. Ideas welcome.

50% Off End of Summer Sale

Medium Zero Messenger Bag - Donghia StripeWe’re having a one time final chance 50% off sale on a few special items while quantities last. This Donghia fabric shoulder bag is one example. The fabric was designed to withstand summer heat, but it’s also a durable winter textile. It will keep you looking colorful and protect your laptop or lunch in any season.

 

Eurocars at Eurobike

December 8th, 2010

Our post last week, That Blind Spot drew a lot of feedback. It’s pretty easy to point to the problems car culture inflicts on the US and to wag fingers at poor transportation ‘design’. The irony of our local community – the ‘progressive’ Bay Area – succumbing to this collective blindness stands out as somewhat… Read more »

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Sea of Cars at Eurobike

Sea of Cars at Eurobike

Next Bike stand at Eurobike

Next Bike stand at Eurobike

Next Bike Rentals

Next Bike Rentals

Next Bike text message

Next Bike text message

Next Bike Advertisement

Next Bike Advertisement

Bicycles as far as the eye can see

Bike parking lots in Amsterdam

Our post last week, That Blind Spot drew a lot of feedback. It’s pretty easy to point to the problems car culture inflicts on the US and to wag fingers at poor transportation ‘design’. The irony of our local community – the ‘progressive’ Bay Area – succumbing to this collective blindness stands out as somewhat comical. This irony is not unique to the US. Let me tell you what I came across in Germany at the annual Eurobike show last week.

Eurobike is the Mecca for bicyclists. It may be five times the size of the US Interbike show. Getting to Friedrichshafen, the town closet to the show, is a treat and hopefully a taste of all travel in the future. You fly into Zurich, walk 100 yards to a train that speeds you silently at 100 mph to Romanshorn. You hop a ferry and have a beer with pals during an hour-long ride across the lake, disembarking in Friedrichshafen, where you can walk to your hotel. You’re feeling profoundly envious of the European public transportation system – the last car I thought about was the taxi in San Francisco taking me to BART (Bay Area Regional Transit).

Getting to the bike show the next morning brought me back to the reality of car traffic. The show is held in a remote suburban location and only accessible by cars and buses. The three-mile trip may take you an hour. Traffic is backed up for 20 miles in all directions with people in their cars trying to get to a bike show. The exhibition area is surrounded by fields of cars and feels stunningly like a racetrack event. This sea of cars really puts the ‘iron’ in irony.

These traffic-jams last all four days of the show. Remember, this is a show to celebrate bikes – amazing pieces of design that give us all independence and efficiency. The irony of it all seems lost on the leaders of the bike industry. How much sweeter it would be if we all rode bikes from our hotels to the show located in a city or community where bikes serve a social purpose? What if the parking lot looked like what you find in so many cities like Amsterdam?

Solutions are always more interesting, and I found one on the first day. I was standing in a long line waiting for a bus after the show, tired and cranky like everyone else. I noticed a small line of rental ‘Next Bikes’ outside the convention hall. I inquired. The bikes were all spoken for, but the guy thought there might be one in a remote location. He used a wireless GPS system and located a bike nearby. In thirty seconds he hooked me up to the online service and sent me a text with the location, serial number, and lock combo of my bike. After a 15-minute walk I was on my free bike and riding blissfully back to the hotel with that special pleasure of passing all the car traffic leaving the Eurobike show. I used the bike during my four-day trip and dropped it off outside my hotel where I simply called the service to tell them I was done. The rental price was $1 Euro for four days. (The ads on the bikes apparently pay for the costs of the system.) All of this is made possible by wireless technology, free enterprise, and local entrepreneurs.

Let’s not delude ourselves by nostalgic thinking that bikes alone are the answer to mobility. We need modern technology. Bike geeks love technology and we have such a tradition for innovation in our own backyard. We must be able to make this work at home, no? Grassroots innovations seem more likely than relying on governmental action or waiting for the bike industry to come around (which is having too much fun watching kids fly on bikes over hills, and it does look like fun).

 

Mellow Johnny’s

Mellow Johnny's Inside

Mellow Johnny's Inside

Mellow Johnny’s is well known because it’s owned by Lance Armstrong, but better known for the adjoining Juan Pelota café, the showers for sweaty bikers, a bike service center, and the best selection in Austin of lifestyle clothing and bikes for racing and city commuting. I love it for its low-key local architecture. Check it out when in Austin. Also check out our other test ride locations around the country – we just added a few more.

 

PARK(ing) Day on Sept. 17

September 13th, 2010

One of our favorite days in the city is the annual Rebar, who are some of the most creative urban designers and planners we’ve come across. We’re teaming up with our friends from Nomad’s Kitchen to convert a few parking spots near our office as temporary picnic areas. We’ll have tables and chairs – and… Read more »

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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.

We’re lucky to work in South Park where there’s already some green space and picnic benches – but on a beautiful day there’s more people looking for spots to sit on than there are seats in the park. So we hope to provide some additional seating areas where our neighbors and visitors can relax on.

Here’s a short history of PARK(ing) Day:

    “PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.”

You can learn about other PARK(ing) Day spots around the world here. Or check out the growing map of San Francisco locations.

We hope to see you and your friends at 123 South Park. And maybe we’ll run into you on our PUBLIC bikes when we visit the other PARK(ing) Day locations around the city.

PARK(ing) Day: User-Generated Urbanism from Brandon Bloch on Vimeo.