Let’s Count on Bike Counters to Promote Cycling

A bicycle counter in Copenhagen, one of the busiest bike cities in the world.

A bicycle counter in Copenhagen, one of the busiest bike cities in the world.

I don’t know about you, but so far, May has been a thrilling Bike Month for California. The events, competitions, and outreach throughout the state has given bicycling a lot of exposure, especially during last week’s Bike Week. In recent years, there has been an increase in participation, notably on cities’ Bike to Work Day.

When San Francisco had its Bike to Work Day earlier this month, they introduced its first digital bicycle counter on the busiest bike street in the city–Market Street. The results were astounding: 3,231 cyclists in a day, not counting those who chose to ride outside the lane.

According to manual bike counts by SFMTA, that accounted for 76% of traffic during rush hour, the highest percentage ever recorded ever since they began the count in 1998.

Record-breaking aside, I was most impressed with the digital bike counter. I believe this serves two major purposes. One, it serves as another innovative tool for tracking quantitative bike stats. The counter allows a greater insight for city planners to track bicycle usage on the street 24/7 365, without the need for manual counters.

Second, the bike counter can serve as a cycling promoter in itself. It is installed in plain sight for all to see: cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists alike. The counters give cyclists a sense of pride because they are contributing to the numbers presented on the screen. The bar gauging the annual riders to date becomes a “micro-game” in community teamwork in trying to reach the top marker of one million riders. Bicycling less would be like quitting the team.

Pedestrians and motorists who pass by the counters can get the urge to “join the team” in reaching the highest number. Every new bicyclist means one less motorist on the road. And we all know what less vehicles on the road means: reduced congestion, increased safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and higher air quality. Copenhagen uses digital bike counters on their lanes, and they are one of the busiest bicycling cities in the world. Coincidence? I think not.

The bicycle counters remind me of the approach that environmentally-conscious companies are implementing right into the design of their buildings. Rather than hiding this information, these companies implement digital signage visualizations that give a realtime readout of their energy usage. Once again, this strategy promotes sustainability awareness by making this data available for all to see. Employers are able to scale back according to the current readouts, and passerby’s can see the eco-friendliness (or not) of the building.

I’m sure these bike counters are only the beginning of what technology can do to promote bicycling. Implementing these innovative tools will help see that future Bike Weeks in the years to come are just as successful.

To the (Sustainable) Industrial Future, and Beyond!

I normally limit my posts to current California planning trends, but thought this was a relevant entry in sustainable communities—in this case community industry. Although this occurs on an international scale, progressive cities such as the Bay Area’s tech hub and Los Angeles’ fashion scene are hotbeds for this concept.

It is becoming arguably clearer—one-person enterprises are not only here to stay, but are growing by the thousands. As Chris Anderson declares in his article In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms are the New Bits, the days of General Motors-type corporations are over. The influxes of affordable high-tech prototyping and web-based tools, internet distribution, and efficient outsourcing to China factories have opened the doors for individuals to become “virtual micro-factories”, often without infrastructure or inventory.

Companies such as TechShop rent out workshop spaces with high-tech prototyping tools. This allows individuals affordable access to work on their prototypes, something that might have been inconceivable and too costly a decade before. This advancement in technology and its ease of access promotes the rise of the one-man industry.

Technology, coupled with a progressive social outlook, has formed a new entrepreneur and a new industrial era—one that is sustainable and promotes a strong global community. Crowdsourcing is the practice of community input towards the goal of a final product. Businesses like Local Motors, the first open source car company, is completely reliant on crowdsourcing. Their volunteer contributors outnumber their paid employees by 500-to-1. Encouraging consumers to be part of this experiment, or “build experience”, not only contributes to community vitality, but can give participants the confidence they need to see their ideas through prototyping, production, and ultimately, distribution.

Crowdfunding, perhaps most recognizable in sites such as Kickstarter, allows these innovators to pitch their ideas to the world and raise funding through supporters from all income levels. Even a young teen can pitch in a dollar to support a cause that they deem worthy.

The result of this new industrial age?

A plethora of innovative products more imaginative and affordable—both for consumers and ambitious entrepreneurs—than ever before. The once-impossible dream for thousands (if not millions) of creators can finally become a reality. A “global community” that allows minds from all over the world to input their own ideas into projects that might have otherwise been limited to the network of the project managers. Everyone pitches in: from the planning, designing, to the funding, manufacturing, and distribution.

Walt Disney, one of the greatest innovators of the 20th century, said it best: “It’s a small world after all”.

Why Sacramento Can Host a CicLAvia, and Succeed

This past Sunday, Los Angeles held its latest CicLAvia event, this time freeing up a 15 mile stretch of Venice Boulevard west of Downtown L.A. to Venice Beach from automobiles. And cyclists, runners, walkers, and spectators of all ages showed up in droves–an estimated 150,000, to be exact.

People who participated had a blast. At least, that’s what I heard from friends and news reports. I, on the other hand, was stuck at home 400 miles away in Sacramento. I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it down this time around, so I went for my own bike ride around town.

During the ride, a random thought entered my mind: why can’t there be an event like CicLAvia–or ciclovia, if referring to its Spanish origins–in Sacramento? I couldn’t think of much reason why it couldn’t be done. The thought lingered in my mind until it bothered me enough to jot some of my ideas down.

A community ride in 2009. Looks like a nice turnout, but we can think even bigger.

A community ride in 2009. Looks like a nice turnout, but we can think even bigger.

The main obstacle would probably be the funding, but money can be raised via fundraisers, as well as donations from local bicycle shops and organizations. Get the major players, such as the Bicycle Coalition and the city involved in generating funds.

I mean, if the most congested city in America can shut down major arterials for cyclists and pedestrians, there is no reason why the much greener, less-crowded Sacramento can’t pull it off. Here’s why:

The City is Bikeable

Walkscore.com gave the Downtown area a score of 89 out of 100, deeming it "very walkable". This score can give a sense of its bikeability as well. The climate is mild and the terrain is flat. The streetscape of some of the neighborhoods cater towards pedestrians. Residential is located in close proximity to transit (Regional Transit-bike event collaboration, anyone?), retail, and other amenities. Downtown is fairly compact to begin with.

I couldn’t find an estimate on the number of miles of bike lanes and routes there are in Sacramento, but believe me–there are a lot. For perspective, take a look at the map below of bicycle infrastructure in Downtown. This doesn’t include the lanes present on almost every street in the neighborhoods outside of the center (at least in South Sacramento).

Credit: sacramento.cbslocal.com

Credit: sacramento.cbslocal.com

More importantly, this doesn’t include the 30-plus mile American River Bike Trail that features some of the most fantastic scenic views in the area. And in my opinion, this bike path integrates almost seamlessly into the rest of the city’s network of bike lanes and routes. For example, I can go from my home and down a ways to the trail without encountering a street sans bike lane.

How can you not enjoy this view from the bike trail?

How can you not enjoy this view from the bike trail?

The City has Awesome Attractions

There are plenty of destinations that can be included in the route. Between the Downtown and Midtown areas, there are a number of boutiques, coffeehouses, dining, and other retail. There are also several parks throughout the area, and can be utilized as merchant and food vendor areas. Historical destinations could include the State Capitol, the K Street Mall, and Old Sacramento (with its frontier-era storefronts, museums, and local eateries). The Crocker Art Museum is a nice spot as well. The route could even connect to the American River Trail, giving participants the option of extending their ride outside of the area’s boundaries.

A Friendlier Culture

Compared to biking in L.A., Sacramento feels like a safe haven for cyclists. With the presence of bike lanes everywhere, drivers here tend to drive slower in general (or at least aren’t as crazy) and respect cyclists a little more. A decent number of Midtown residents walk or bike to get around, so it may have to do with the mindset of people here.

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Add this to the fact that Sacramento has neighbors such as Davis–the city with the highest percentage of bike commuters–and San Francisco, another city nationally recognized for its huge bike culture. I feel like just by being close to these cities, we’re guilty by association; call it the trickle effect.

As long as the event appeals to people of all ages (and not only bicyclists) and stays organized, a Sacramento CicLAvia can distance itself from the negative perceptions of S.F.’s Critical Mass. The monthly event seems to attract one too many cyclists who are hostile towards drivers and have no regard to road rules. Let’s just say it’d be nice to have the local bicycle coalition support an event such as this.

Conclusion

L.A. enjoys success with CicLAvia because the novelty of riding bikes in the city is still a relatively novel idea. In Sacramento, people are already used to this. The need to increase awareness for bicyclists is favorable but not a priority. Instead, why not make the event a celebration of the city’s current status in bike culture and infrastructure? In turn, a successful event will influence more people to ride their bikes.

Thinking about a CicLAvia-like event in Sacramento has got me all excited. I’ve already even taken the initiative to think of possible names for Sacramento’s version: Saclovia, Critical Sac, Cycle Sac…I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

Homegrown Foods: Delicious AND Sustainable

I was at work in the planning department when I received a public inquiry regarding regulations for raising chickens within city limits. This was a coincidence, because just the other day I was entertaining the thought of having a few backyard chickens of my own; one of my coworkers also expressed his interest in owning a few hens.

This was an issue a couple years back when many cities in California passed ordinances to address the growing demand for backyard chickens. The number of urbanites that took part increased as more and more cities allowed it. Even crowded metropolitans such as Los Angeles and San Francisco passed chicken ordinances.

That got me thinking about the popularity and fascination of growing your own food. Most city dwellers who enjoy the hobby usually do so in the form of vegetable gardens, myself included. Maybe it’s the sense of pride one feels from putting in the hard work. Maybe it’s just for the food. Personally, I enjoy backyard gardening because it’s sustainable.

Freshly-planted tomato plants; just in time for summer.


Back when I was in school as an undergrad, I would try to buy locally as often as possible and frequent farmer’s markets. I liked knowing that the food didn’t have to travel thousands of miles to get there, and that the money I spent was going back into the local economy.

While that’s good, DIY backyard gardens are even more sustainable. It practices food education. I consider these points to be the greatest benefits:

  1. You know where the food is coming from–your backyard or a community garden.
  2. You know exactly how it is raised. What organic methods–or pesticides–you use is up to you. Because most of the food you grow will be going into you and your family’s mouths, you’re more inclined to raise it as safely as possible.
  3. The savings in transportation costs (in terms of fuel costs and emissions reductions) from driving to the market to buy the same foods.

This won’t convince everyone to grow their own food. But it’d be cool if more people gave it a shot–they might enjoy it. At the very least, they may become more conscious of where the produce they buy at the store is from.

As for me, I might start building a coop for my future chickens.

In Defense of Gentrification, Part 2

6th_and_Market,_San_Francisco_(6001096396)

The aesthetics of a neighborhood are not only important in attracting people to the area–it is vital in strengthening the community as well. Neighborhoods prior to undergoing revitalization are usually perceived as unsafe and unwelcoming. Is it not the planner’s responsibility to implement standards to improve these conditions? And as an ethical planner, how can you create a flourishing neighborhood for a community if you don’t address its welcomeness and comfortability? If those qualities are neglected, the area will continue–or will be doomed–to fail.

The implementation of states’ streetscape design enhancement guidelines (i.e. lighting, landscaping, sidewalk widening) are proven standards that have been shown to deter crime by attracting more pedestrian traffic (AKA “eyes on the street”). These are improvements that not only make ME feel welcome–they are standards MOST consider appealing, regardless of income levels. If a large, undeveloped plot of land underwent a transformation into a vibrant park, wouldn’t you want to walk through it more so now rather than before?

It’s the visual appeal that gets residents to go outside, look around, and take a walk. Consequently, it is the same visual appeal that naturally attracts individuals from outside the community, many of whom have higher incomes. No, I am not saying that existing residents are no longer welcome once the neighborhood is beautified. It’s not like the intended purpose of gentrification is to kick lower income residents out. In fact, one of the objectives of revitalization is to encourage current residents to stay there. The unfortunate trend just happens to be that, once an area is redeveloped and demand rises, lower income residents become less capable of meeting the impending rise in living costs.

In the end, it goes back to HOW the planner decides to go about improving the neighborhood. Gentrification is just like every planning concept in that, regardless of the result, it is impossible to satisfy the entire community. Not everyone can be a winner; one group will always gain more than the other group. The best decisions will be those which maximize benefits while minimizing the drawbacks–the impossible task of a planner.