Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Bicycling as transportation: media roundup

This billboard is on North Charles Street in Baltimore across from Penn Station.

There has been a bunch of good coverage of biking recently.

1.  The Washington Post ran a couple pages in the DC Local Living section on Thursday about urban biking.  (I don't know if the same section ran in the other editions of the section for the suburban counties.)

-- "How Washington cyclists can stay safe as more bikes hit city streets"

Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun / May 13, 2014 ) A flat tire forces Greg Cantori to the side of the road, his first flat since he started using the Velomobile in October.

2. The  Baltimore Sun ran a story, "Greg Cantori's velomobile turns heads, keeps pace: Three-wheeled, enclosed vehicle resembles yellow submarine," on the front page about philanthropy executive Greg Cantori, and how he commutes to his job in Baltimore City from Pasadena, Maryland in a velo, a three-wheeled bicycle vehicle that can travel as fast as 50 mph. Such a vehicle makes longer distance commuting by bike--or at least, not by car--more possible for more people.

3.  The Baltimore Sun had another story ("Youths steal dozens of bicycles from city program: Ride Around the Reservoir program suspended indefinitely"), about a recreational bike lending program (proto-bike sharing) in Druid Hill Park, and how an organized group of youths came and stole most of the bikes.

I don't think that's a surprise and in an urban environment, this is something that you have to plan for. The whole point of traditional bike sharing and why it ends up being so expensive is that the bike station docks are hardened against crime/theft so that the bikes can be left outside and remain secure.

4.  The New York Times ran two stories.  The first is on bike sharing ("Bike Share's Rough Ride") and the financial difficulties it has had in NYC.  The system was set up to be privately financed and operated through annual revenues.  In fact, bike sharing in Paris is "subsidized" because its provision is tied to and paid for by an advertising contract that allows ads being placed in the public space.

But there aren't enough revenues to put the system on an even financial keel.  One dumb thing the operators did is agree to reimburse the city for lost parking revenues from those stations placed on the street, in former street parking spaces.  That's a $1 million subsidy to the city, rather than the other way around.  See "Citi Bike needs to pay about $1 million in lost parking" from the Wall Street Journal.

Now that there are bike sharing stations in Takoma Park, Maryland and one at the Takoma Metro Station (otherwise this part of DC doesn't have bike sharing stations), I do see some people commuting to work, presumably to Downtown, even though this area is 4 to 5 miles from Downtown.

The writer states, correctly, that all transportation modes are subsidized in some form and suggests that bike sharing can make a case for a similar subsidy, from general or transportation fund sources.

I don't know how I feel about that.  I agree about transportation modes being subsidized and the case for biking ("subsidies" include providing bike infrastructure like cycletracks as well bike parking) as part of the whole, co-equal.  But the question is bike sharing the best place to invest money in biking as transportation, are there better ways to get more return on the spending?

That being said there is no question that bike sharing has significantly elevated the awareness of biking as transportation, at all levels, from elected officials to residents and commuters.

In a series of online videos by Huffy, Grace Blais, 10, asks women doing errands or at work to go for bike rides. New York Times photo.

5.  The second story is about marketing-messaging that promotes biking, in the business section's advertising column ("A Girl Gets Mothers to Start Biking Again").  The article is about a print and video campaign by Huffy, where a 10-year-old girl goes up to "mothers" and takes them on a bike ride, reintroducing them to the possibility of biking.

-- Huffy You Tube video page, "Learn How to Ride a Bike (Again!!!)" campaign

I like the concept because a big part of reintroducing people to the possibilities and opportunities of biking as transportation involves "trying it."

6.  I am noticing a lot more travel coverage in magazines and newspapers about biking as part of travel. The current issue of Travel & Leisure magazine has a few mentions.  The NYT had a piece last week or the week before in the travel.

Personally, I am not interested in traditional bike tourism where you go on a trip that is organized almost exclusively around long distance bike riding, but I am happy to include biking as part of what we might call "city break" or urban-oriented tourism, of which bike sharing can be an element, as well as more traditional bike rental, more hotels are providing access to bikes for guests, etc.

Hopefully this segment of the visitation market is bigger than we think, and can be another path to reintroduce people to biking as transportation.

During the writing project I was doing for the EU National Institutes of Culture Washington Cluster's "Europe in Baltimore" initiative, I came across a great paper about urban tourism opportunities in Thessaloniki (Development of Thessaloniki, Greece as a City Break Tourism Destination), which used a framework to evaluate what they called "city break" or urban-focused tourism, which is a particularly useful way to consider this issue.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, on the way back from a trip we stopped at the Maryland tourism welcome center in Charles County and not only was it excellently organized but it had one section dedicated to bike tourism (and the Baltimore City section had a good array of brochures on transit).  Granted it was more oriented to rural bike tourism, but it was definitely noticeable.

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