Strange on the Streets

December 29th, 2010

There was a unique street event in San Francisco (and simultaneously around the world) last week called PARK(ing) Day. Businesses and community groups were encouraged to convert the metered parking spaces in front of their establishments into alternative public spaces. The event plays off what it means when you pay for a parking space, demanding… Read more »

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Park(ing) DayPark(ing) DaySWA StudiosPark(ing) Day
Park(ing) Day

2nd Street SOMA

One of SOMA's six lane thoroughfares

3rd Street SOMA

Pedestrians crossing SOMA's six lanes

Brannan Street SOMA

There was a unique street event in San Francisco (and simultaneously around the world) last week called PARK(ing) Day. Businesses and community groups were encouraged to convert the metered parking spaces in front of their establishments into alternative public spaces. The event plays off what it means when you pay for a parking space, demanding a little awareness from us about this wholly habitual transaction. What is a parking space? What could it be? It’s a fun and quirky event, spread out mostly in the South of Market (SOMA), Hayes Valley, and Mission parts of the city. The best designed installations involved some humor, cleverness, and visual thinking ­­ an architectural pop-up environment made from the recycled cardboard tubes of large format printers by SWA/Studios SWA/Studios on Howard Street and the Pig (Harry Allen), a parked astroturf car piece at Propeller Propeller on Hayes. There were several animated spaces on Valencia Street that included insect habitats, brown bears, panda bears, maroon walruses on bikes (of course ), and more.

PARK(ing) Day asks people to reevaluate the very nature of urban street design and to prioritize the human experience over the car experience. It’s a mild-mannered demonstration, a lot easier for most drivers to accept than the more confrontational Critical Mass. PARK(ing) Day shares much in common with the hugely successful Sunday Streets program where sections of the city are closed to car traffic for a day. Both are international events, exploding in popularity, and well received by the residents and business alike because it increases friendly sidewalk traffic, not car traffic.

It’s great to call attention to these urban design issues with these diminutive installations, but a little sad that the monstrously dominant visual element that defines our environment – the massive swaths of asphalt – are implicitly given a pass. In our SOMA neighborhood numerous six lane one-way thoroughfares crisscross miles of the city and define the urban plan of the district. These supersized runways were smart design elements at one time. They were constructed back in the 1930’s in order to accommodate commercial trucks that serviced the heavy industries that made up this part of city.

But industry has left most of SOMA. Factories have been replaced by lofts, yoga studios, bars, eateries, art museums, music clubs, and design offices – a myriad soulful community-based enterprises. There is a vibrant community here, but not many of us enjoy walking around much. It’s impersonal in sight, sound, and scale not really designed for humans. One-way high-speed traffic runs counter to the needs of civilized neighborhoods. We live and work on highway corridors that serve freeways and bridges for outlying communities, not ours.

Logically, it is time for these thoroughfares to be retrofitted with trees, pedestrian zones, bike lanes, parks, and sidewalk cafes. All of this could be done at low cost with community support and with marginal impact to traffic. San Francisco also has some stellar examples of repurposed public spaces ­the Ferry Building and Crissy Field at the top of the list. Tourists and locals alike flock to these retrofitted destinations. Community is nurtured. What’s not to like about it?

It seems so obvious. Some of the most attractive and valuable real estate in the world we have operating as underutilized sober grey asphalt runways. I guess we just don’t see it. Or we are too busy hustling through it or making sure we don’t get run over crossing the streets to think about the possibilities. This is what is really strange, a lot stranger than maroon walruses talking to bears to be sure.

Park(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) Day
 

Bikes Back in Stock (Almost)

PUBLIC's Orange M3As many of you know we have been out of stock on most of our 3-Speeds for months. Thanks for your patience. We will have Medium sized M3’s in Cream, Orange, and Blue ready to ship by October 15th. We sold out of these quickly before, so this is a good time to place your order.

 

Orange Towers and Fat Books

December 1st, 2010

Two ”monuments” dedicated to the public space came on my radar screen this week. The first was Coit Tower, seen here from my deck illuminated in orange to honor of the San Francisco Giants playing in the World Series. It makes us smile, and it brings focus to an important architectural icon in the city…. Read more »

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Coit Tower lit up in orange

Coit Tower lit up in orange

'The High Cost of Free Parking' by Donald Shoup

'The High Cost of Free Parking' by Donald Shoup

Donald Shoup in Paris

Donald Shoup in Paris

Two ”monuments” dedicated to the public space came on my radar screen this week. The first was Coit Tower, seen here from my deck illuminated in orange to honor of the San Francisco Giants playing in the World Series. It makes us smile, and it brings focus to an important architectural icon in the city. The other monument is a massive 737-page tome that arrived on my desk called, The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. What do they have in common?

Shoup’s book and the Orange Coit Tower help us look at our public spaces from a fresh perspective and to consider their value and potential in our daily lives. How do we assess the real value of public spaces in our cities anyway? What is Golden Gate or Central Park worth to us? What about the value of the common everyday sidewalk or street corner where people congregate? How about a public bench, beach, train station, bike path or dog park? These are heady issues without easy answers. Social economics is tricky like that, and usually gets left to academics. I guess that’s why it takes 737 pages to give the subject of free parking its fair due. An advertising person might simply reduce it down to “Think Differently,” like Apple does.

Shoup’s persuasive premise is that free parking is the great blind spot of American local politics. We agree. We have remarked on this in our own modest way in the past, for example our That Blind Spot post. Rarely do we share quotes, but take a minute to absorb these poignant reviews.

“Free parking is like a fertility drug for cars. Many people don’t realize how much of the high price of housing is due to requirements by local governments that a certain number of parking spaces must be provided. These costs are paid by everyone, including those who don’t own a car.”

“In this revelatory, revolutionary book, UCLA professor Donald Shoup persuasively explains why almost everything we are told about parking either by professional planning experts or by ‘common sense’ is wrong, and argues that current parking policies constitute the greatest planning disaster in human history.”

“Shoup points out that if we decided that gasoline should be free, the result we would expect would be obvious: people would drive too much, shortages of gasoline would develop, fights would break out over scarce gas, and governments would go broke trying to pay for it all. Parking is no different. Providing free parking leads to overuse, shortages, and conflicts over parking. Cash-strapped local governments and neighborhoods lose out too.”


“I was stunned to find out that in some neighborhoods up to 90% of the traffic has been found to be people cruising around looking for a place to park. Charging the right price for parking according to local demand can get rid of this problem.”

How many of us have the patience to read a 737-page book? How can we bridge the gap between academic work and public awareness? Should we paint parking spots orange, pile up a bunch of Shoup’s books in a parking space? Events like Park(ing) Day help raise awareness. An easier route might be to join “The Shoupistas” on Facebook. We need more creative minds think progressively about public space, like the city planner who dreamt of celebratory Orange Towers.

One action we can take today is to Vote Tomorrow for legislation to improve the quality of our public space. If you live in California, a “No” vote on big oil-funded Prop. 23 is a “No” brainer. If you live in San Francisco’s western and northern neighborhoods, vote “Yes” for Bert Hill on the BART Board. We don’t usually endorse individuals, but transit advocate Bert Hill has unimpeachable professional credentials and a demeanor such that he teaches bicycle safety as avocation. His David vs. Goliath battle against the incumbent can be viewed here.

Free Shipping on All Bikes in stock through November 16th

Contest for Everyone. Even Students.

We are giving away two bikes as part of our PUBLIC J7 and PUBLIC A7 launch, and there is a special program for college students. Please forward this page with details about our contest to your friends and family.

Fall Blues Festival

All blue PUBLIC Ds at 20% off
We’ve got more Blue diamond-frame bikes (D1, D3, and D8) than we have room for in our warehouse, and we need to make space for new bikes coming in mid-November. For a limited time, we’re offering a special on our blue diamond bikes in single, 3, and 8 speeds, in all sizes. See our Fall Blues page for details.

 

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.