Monday, August 31, 2015

Why You Should Take Part in Park(ing) Day

Photo taken September 3, 2014 - on the way back from my first Parking Day planning meeting

A year ago I was living in Stamford, Connecticut instead of San Jose, California. This meant I had a working knowledge of the cycling quirks in the state I lived in, a memory of what rain looked like, and the ability to carry groceries with complimentary, store-issued bags. 

My Stamford friend and fellow bike activist Emily emailed me and asked if I wanted to take part in Parking Day - an event I had never heard of before that originated in San Francisco in 2005 and takes place on the third Friday of September. I’ve always maintained that if you want a better environment for cyclists and walkers in Stamford (or, for that matter, the state of Connecticut) that you do whatever Emily tells you to do, so I agreed to help.

I met with Emily and Meg (one of the founders of Bike Stamford) at Lorca to discuss what we wanted to do. Thankfully, they gave a rundown of Parking Day that can easily be found on the web site: The short version is: you feed a parking meter, but instead of putting a car there, you put a small public space. It can be a living room, a dining area, a mini-golf course - anything you can imagine. This is a fun way to get people to wonder how to best use public space. After all, when you think about it, cars take up a lot of public space.

The name of the new public space is called a ‘parklet.’ This is not a common word. I know this because spell check changed it to ‘parcel’ the first few times I typed it. 

Even still, you’ve probably seen some parklets in your life. The more permanent ones can be pretty elaborate. Here’s one I found when went biking in Germany last year:

In Redwood City, California, I found this near an outstanding Mexican restaurant. The meters are still there. 

But back to the not-yet-built parklet in Stamford: since the jobs of working with the city and promoting the event were taken by people more talented than myself, I volunteered to provide most of the furniture for the parklet. We barely had two weeks to prepare. The big criteria is that we needed to use items that could be put in place quickly and taken away as soon as the meter ran out.  

I used a small vinyl couch from my home office that had big casters on it (it also could fit in the back of my Honda Element) the DIYBIKING.COM signature coffee table, the coat rack I had also welded, a couple of folding chairs and two $20 rugs from Home Depot. Incidentally: two 5 x 8 rugs, when taped together, are about the same footprint as a parked Toyota Corolla.

While mapping this all out in my basement, I realized just how much space a car takes up (a feeling I’d get nearly a year later when I had the not-for-me experience of being in the same room with my car). 

Days before Parking Day, I planned out how we would take the two parking spaces in front of Lorca at the predetermined time.

When it came time to move in, we were annoyed to see an ugly Ford van in the second space hadn’t moved even though its meter had run out. But we pressed forward anyway: I fed our meter and we set up the furniture on the one parking spot.

We worked quickly to put things in place at our parklet - which bore a slight resemblance to my man cave/basement living room. I even brought along my old chess set, and in no time at all we were sitting in our parklet playing a game.

However, a few minutes later…

One of Stamford’s finest stopped to ask what we were doing, and we assured him we had cleared it with the proper people first. Besides: I had added reflective stickers to the back of the sofa to provide more safety after sunset.

After the friendly officer left, more people began stopping by and asking what we were doing. Some brought snacks and a vase of flowers somehow materialized on the coffee table. Emily also provided a board so anyone could stop in and provide their visions for public space (you may have seen Lindsay Perry’s photo of this in the Stamford Advocate with Elizabeth Kim's story). 

Others showed up. I got to meet a nice woman over a chess game that we didn't finish (we finally did days before I moved to California). My wife came over after she got done with work and made a watercolor sketch of the parklet. I even jaywalked through the gridlocked Bedford Street carrying a plate Lorca cookies offering them to motorists. A guy even stopped by on foot playing a guitar.

And then I sat on the vinyl couch with my Lorca cookies, watching friends play board games and talking - laughing, really - with one another.  A few feet away on Bedford Street, cars continued to trundle by. Some of the drivers were staring. Most were smiling. And that ugly Ford van never moved. 

Within a few minutes of the meter running out we packed up. I managed to load the carpet, my coffee table, folding chairs and coat rack onto the vinyl couch and roll the whole lot behind Lorca to stuff them into the back of my legally parked Honda Element. When I returned on foot, I was greeted with a familiar sight.

The car had pulled into the space within thirty seconds of us leaving it - the occupants apparently had no idea how significant the space had been (or wondered who all of these people were who were staring at them when they pulled in). Afterwards, a group of old and new friends went out to dinner at Cask Republic. 

Your own experience with Parking Day may vary but I highly recommend that you get involved with Parking Day and/or make one yourself. As I proved, you don’t need the best or most stylish furnishings to make a Parking Day impression - just a small number of people willing to have fun convincing others that space devoted to an unoccupied motor vehicle may be put to better use. Stamford's Parking Day 2015 will be bigger and better this time around and if you live in the Bay Area: I may have a brown sofa with reflective stickers on it you can borrow.  Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris

Friday, August 28, 2015

Still Need A Bike for Burning Man? Visit Good Karma Bikes

Good Karma Bikes is located on 345 Sunol Street in San Jose and if you want a sturdy but inexpensive bike to bring to Burning Man this is where you need to go. 

The deals are great because at the moment GKB is preparing to move to another location and need to clear out some inventory. So if you want a bike to stand up to the abuse Burning Man delivers (or if you just want a new set of wheels) head right over. If you're doing some tinkering at home peruse their parts too. You'll be glad you went. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Seven Takeaways from the 2015 Silicon Valley Bike Summit

I went to yesterday’s Silicon Valley Bike Summit because it was a matter of national security: three months living full time in California - and even longer since I resigned from the Connecticut Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Board and Stamford’s bike groups - I’ve been having serious bicycle community involvement withdrawal.

The Bike Summit - created and organized by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition - was the good stuff. I shot all the bike nerd data into my bloodstream and immediately knew where my registration fees went. 

I’ll go next year for sure (this was the SVBC's 5th annual summit) and if you live in the Bay Area and want to make it easier for you and your neighbors to #choosethebike in day to day life, you’ll want to go too. 

Now if you weren’t in the packed room yesterday at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, here are just a few of the takeaways (you can also look up the hashtag #svbikesummit on Twitter to see some of the highlights or, even easier, look at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s story of the summit).

7) The Question: What is Stopping Us From Being The Best Bicycle Place in the World?

During one of the panels this question was asked. It’s the best thirteen words spoken about cycling since the original Thirteen Words I always wished politicians would say.

It’s a good starting place for any community and a helpful way to get to the bottom of why people won’t #choosethebike. 

6) The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Vision Zero Toolkit

Vision Zero is about redesigning and remaking cities to eliminate deaths on roads and educating citizens on the move to make that vision possible. 

SVBC made a useful kit of data and recommendations to help get any city or town moving on their own Vision Zero plan. The link to the SVBC Vision Zero Toolkit is here and it must be put in front of every Bay Area leader’s eyes - except not when they’re driving. That’s just dangerous. 

Also be sure to read the acknowledgements page from start to finish because a lot of great work from a lot of different sources went into this. 

5) The Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s Report

A theme throughout the day was data and how it can be used to guide better decisions. For instance, it’s incredibly easy to suggest a redesign of one intersection where a pedestrian was killed by using HO scale miniatures…

…but nobody has all the money they want to change every road they have. Data measures (‘What gets measured gets done’ was another great line from the summit). Data creates urgency. Data can show the effects of certain pro-bike efforts and help guide funds to priority areas. For instance, one of the most teeth-gnashing figures from yesterday is that El Camino Real makes up about 1% of San Mateo County roads but is responsible for 14% of bike collisions. 

Sounds like a serious candidate for improvement. 

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department's Bicycle Transportation & Safety in Santa Clara County report was available to the Bike Summit participants. The link is here and just like with the Vision Zero Tool kit please read the acknowledgements page because this kind of data doesn’t fall from the sky. 

The SCCPHD report’s content can vary from geekilicious to terrifying. If you’ve ever wanted to know who rides in general, who bikes to school, where your town ranks in terms of bicycle commuters* this is your report. If you want to look at trend information about bicycle injuries, what factors are involved and how frequently bicyclists are considered at fault, read the report. 

Actually: I take that back. Read the report whether you want to or not. It’s that important.

4) People Who Speak Are The Ones Who Get Listened To

Now it’s one thing to have useful data but it’s a tree falling in the woods with nobody around to hear it if no one wields it in public. Time and again panelists and audience members stated that town hall meetings must be packed, letters to the editor must be written and cyclists. Period. Must. Period. Vote. Period. 

We also need to do a better job of explaining what a ‘sharrow’ is. For the record:

So if you live in Silicon Valley and want to get involved with local issues visit the SVBC calendar page and go to your nearest event and go to town meetings. Data is your sword and town halls are the caves that may or may not have dragons in them. Go forth. 

3) The Networking

I’ve been to conferences all over the world and can credibly confirm that the ones without neckties are the best places to meet people. I met the head of Cyclelicious on the group bike ride to the event. I met great folks at my table (including the bike blogger LadyFleur). I had a nice lunch with a city planner I met in line for sandwiches. I learned about the Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange while waiting for the first panel to start. I even got to meet someone because I sent the following image as a tweet during the summit.

I also got to meet a guy from GenZe, the company that provided the electric assist e-bike for the happy hour raffle. It was hard to imagine a more fun place to network. Also: all these good looking people walking around there must have been at least one meet-cute. 

2) The Phrase ’The Great Thing About Bike Share…’ became the ‘This One Time At Band Camp…’ of The Summit.  

You had to be there. But because you weren’t you can follow Frank Hebbert, the Director of Digital Product Management at Motivate, on Twitter. You can also give a read of my white paper on the London Bike Share I did last year. 

1) The Breakout Sessions

Wisely, SVBC assigned all of the attendees a number which decided which afternoon breakout session you’d be involved in. Working with the Engineering group was an interesting exercise: we were all asked to think about what behavior cyclists do that we don’t like to see as motorists and then we were asked to put on the more familiar hat and discuss what driver behaviors we don’t like to see as cyclists.  Afterward, we melded the two lists and tried to discuss how to engineer streets to change both behaviors. 

One of the solutions that would enable better behavior were various ‘road dieting’ initiatives, such as making driving lanes narrow - so cars would drive slower - and using the space left over to make a bike lane, which would not only give bicycle users a safer place to ride but also encourage cyclists not weave in and out of traffic. When you reduce a driver’s lane from 12’ to 10’ the motorists won’t notice - but the bicycle commuters will. 

So those are some of my takeaways. I thank the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition for creating this event and I urge you to read those reports and decide what action you want to take to make cycling better where you live. That’s what it’s all about. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris

*You’re behind Palo Alto. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Are you a Cyclist in Silicon Valley? Here's What You're Doing Today

Today, August 22nd, is the 7th Annual Sports Basement Cycle Swap. It is from 10:00am to 2:00pm at Sports Basement of Sunnyvale and there is going to be a selection of new and used bikes, parts, gear and other stuff from 70+ vendors. There will also be food trucks there.

Adult admission is $3 and kids 18 or under get in free.

It’s important to go for several reasons. You might find an interesting part or accessory you didn’t know you wanted. Do not underestimate the value of stumbling along obscure and reasonably priced bike stuff. Read some of my archives: entire builds have been inspired by one find (more on the latest in another post). Also: if you have a cyclist in your life with an upcoming birthday, you might find the perfect gift. 

Second, all proceeds from the admission price and the booth fees benefit the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. So you’ll be browsing a selection of parts, meeting new friends, and helping a great cause (and if for whatever reason you can't go tomorrow but still want to make Silicon Valley a better place to #choosethebike, donate to the SVBC by clicking here. 

So head to Sports Basement tomorrow with an empty stomach and a full wallet - you’ll be glad you did. And as you eat and shop introduce yourself to the people that meet. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris

Friday, August 14, 2015

Biking Nations: Singapore - Part I

Last month my wife went to the 2015 Urban Sketching Symposium in Singapore. For those of you who don’t know the Urban Sketchers are a fun, talented, pen-and-paper passionate bunch who like to draw, love to learn, and enjoy uniting artists around the world. Since I’ve met many of them on earlier trips it was nice to see familiar faces - such as The Portland Sketcher, with whom my wife and I got to enjoy coffee.

It goes without saying that if you are a non-sketcher and you are partnered with a sketcher you should bring your bike and go. Thanks to USK I’ve been able to bike in Lisbon, Santo Domingo, Barcelona, Paraty - and now Singapore.

I’ve got good news: Singapore is a beautiful place with very nice people and some of the most outstanding food I’ve ever eaten. If you like to bike and you like to eat this is a great country for both. 

The bad news is Singapore is not made for cyclists. The country is celebrating their 50th birthday this summer and it’s clear cars were ruling everything for the first five decades. No visible bike lanes, no sharrows and not a lot in the way of a shoulder. The bike-friendly areas that do exist only seem to share space with pedestrians rather than cars (and to Singapore’s credit they’re very nice places).

The taxicabs in Singapore aren’t quite as obnoxious as they are in New York City but if a motor vehicle passes you too closely chances are excellent it’ll be a cab. Also you need to be mindful of the storm drains which are eager to flip any cyclist who dares ride too close to the edge of the road.

However, Singapore’s strong points outweigh its weak ones. But I do hope the next 50 years are about how to make cycling easier for its citizens and its visitors.

But if you want to go biking in Singapore now - and I recommend it - there are a few things that are good to remember. First, remember that it is going to be hot. Think 90+ degrees with 100,000% humidity. When you first step out of the airport you’ll feel yourself walking slower since your body has to push all the wet air out of its way. Bike more than two blocks and your body will be covered by sweat that will feel like a cross between motor oil and movie theater popcorn butter. Smear on the sunscreen, fill your Camelbak early and often, and wear white jerseys.

Another thing to remember is that they drive on the left in Singapore. If you’re from the UK or from another country where they drive incorrectly you can skip this paragraph but if you’re not used to riding on the left you have to take a little time to get used to turning, signaling and merging. Also the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car. I try to make a habit at traffic lights to turn my head and make friendly eye contact with drivers nearby (so they are aware I’m a human being and so forth) but if you look on the left side of the car you’ll sometimes spot a sleeping adult, a three-year-old child, and so on. 

So remember the driver is sitting in a space on the other side of the car and be patient if you’re biking or walking around Singapore (a lot of it may have been preparations for the 50th birthday party).

The hassles aside, you can pretty much go anywhere your tires take you - as long as you’re cautious and have a reliable bike. Thankfully, my 1998 Bike Friday New World Tourist - now on its sixth country with me - worked perfectly and wasn’t poked by Homeland Security on its way to Singapore. 

The first two days of Singapore were similar in that they were defined by my greed. I wanted to bike to Malaysia. I crossed international borders on a bike once before and I thought when else will I have a chance to do this? The 14th country I've biked in as a springboard for the 15th. I was looking forward to getting to the border and writing because it’s there on the customs form  section that asks why you’re visiting the country.

However, getting to the border wasn’t as easy as it looked. For one thing it meant biking on the BKE which felt like riding on Interstate 95. I kept asking myself if I was allowed on this road because it felt like I shouldn’t be. Following a cheesy hotel map (what else?) I got lost and ran out of time the first day.

I got very close to crossing the border on my second attempt. I made it all the way to Woodland checkpoint and spent 45 minutes trying to get across. There didn’t seem to be a way to do it that didn’t involve riding on a highway - which I was still unsure I was even allowed to do in Singapore. 

At the border I saw the lane for cars, the lane for lorries, the lane for passenger vans, the lane for motorcycles…but nothing for the non-motor vehicle user. 

I had been told by two people I met to use the motorcycle lane but with two lanes of fast highway traffic between me and said lane - and the fact I was running out of time once again- made me turn back. 

But I got to see monkeys on the ride back to the hotel. That was cool. It would have been even better if there was an infinite number of them and they were all using typewriters but it was still cool. 

Also - on day one and day two - I was lucky enough to find a hawker stall when I was ready for lunch - and these are places you have to seek out in Singapore: inexpensive and delicious food sold wherever you turn. 

On my first day I had duck rice for $5 and on the second day - at Adam Food Centre - I had 10 chicken satay sticks for $6, lime juice for $1.50 and some strange chicken noodle dish for $3. Still another vendor got $2 from me for two large bottles of water to replenish my Camelbak.

Some of you may remember that in Paraty I got - amazingly, considering the muddy mountain roads I subjected the Bike Friday to - only one flat tire in my hotel room. This time, on a road in Singapore, I ran over an alarming number of nails and the predictable happened.

This wasn’t the kind of thing I’d expect to happen in a country that has $10,000 fines for dumping. But it did happen, and since I was prepared for it I changed the tube without any problems. The nail was so large I kept it as a souvenir. 

That evening I took a short spin downtown to where they were doing rehearsals for their 50th anniversary bash.  Deciding not to make a third attempt to bike to Malaysia I decided that I’d ride elsewhere on my final day in Singapore.  And it was worth it. 

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris

Friday, August 7, 2015

What Do Bike Lanes Do To Car Traffic?

Here are three things I know to be true:

1) I’ll miss Jon Stewart terribly and liked the Daily Show finale last night, but it would have been better if it closed with him and all the correspondents each riding a CitiBike to New Jersey.

2) I deeply enjoyed the alfajore cookies from Lorca someone sent me from Stamford this week - you know how to bring me a smile and mitigate homesickness.

Please watch and share the video below which addresses the third thing on my list.  It’s a message that needs to get across and reach every obsessed Car Culture 2.0 motorist, every political leader and every Angry Finger Wagging Town Hall Guy. 

And it especially needs to come across in Menlo Park, where folks are seriously thinking about adding a third car lane to El Camino Real. If you live there the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition has helpfully provided a link to make it easy to tell Menlo Park to do right by El Camino Real and make it safe for all commuters. 

Thanks for watching and thanks for riding. 

Follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris