CategoryFun

Finding a new way to measure cities’ bike friendliness in the United States

A really smart person could come up with a way to measure day-to-day bike friendliness based on how well cities adhere to standards that keep roads clear of obstructions that further frustrate the commute, like construction projects that squeeze bikes and cars together. 

I work at home. There are some days when I only leave my house to get milk from the Mexican grocery store at the end of my block (which makes awesome burritos). That means I ride my bike half as much as people who commute to work. on their bikes. Today I had a bunch of errands to run: drop off stuff, buy stuff, take pictures of stuff for my blog, Grid Chicago.

It was a very frustrating experience. I don’t need to go into details about how I was harassed by people who the state so graciously awarded a license to drive. But it happened. And it happens a hundred times a day to people cycle commuting in Chicago. I got to thinking about “bike friendly” cities. Is there a way to incorporate driver attitudes in there? I tweeted:

[tweet_embed id=264575958374305792]

Later I had the idea to use some very simple but objective measurements to create a new bike friendliness metric. It would help ensure that “Silver” (a ranking the League of American Bicyclists [LAB] uses) in one city means the same as “Silver”. It can expand from here but basically it works like this:

  • The share of people going to work who go by bike is a proxy for how “friendly” a city is to biking.
  • If a city has a lot of people biking to work, it must be friendly.
  • If a city has a few people biking to work, it must be non-friendly.
  • Cities are compared to each other to determine friendly and non-friendly.
  • The metric uses standard deviation to score cities.

Stop me if this has already been done.

I created a spreadsheet that lists the top 10 populous cities in the United States. I then added 10 more cities: Austin, Boston, Davis, Madison, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In the next column I listed their bike commute share from the American Community Survey 2006-2010 5-year estimates. I calculated the standard deviation and mean of these shares and then in another column used Apple Numbers’s STANDARDIZE function:

The STANDARDIZE function returns a normalized value from a distribution characterized by a given mean and standard deviation.

I think that’s what I want. And the output is close to what I expected. I then found the LAB ranking for each city and found the variance of each ranking to see how far apart each city within one ranking was from another city in the same ranking. The results were interesting: the higher the ranking, the more variance there was.

Hurricane Sandy prompted a lot of New Yorkers to bike. It made headlines, even. Photo by Doug Gordon. 

I wanted to add another metric of bike friendliness, and that’s density. To me, a higher density of people would mean a higher density of places to go (shop, eat, learn, enjoy) and friends and family would be closer, too. Or the possibility of meeting new people nearby would be higher. Yeah, I’m making a lot of assumptions here. So I applied the STANDARDIZE function there as well. I added this number to the previous STANDARDIZE result and that became the city’s score.

So, in this new, weird ranking system, the most bicycle friendly cities are…drum roll please…

  1. Davis, California (Platinum)
  2. New York City (Silver) *
  3. San Francisco (Gold) *
  4. Boulder (Platinum)
  5. Boston (Silver)
  6. Philadelphia (Silver)
  7. Tie: Chicago*, Washington, D.C. (Silver)
  8. Tie: Portland* (Platinum), Minneapolis* (Gold)

Remember, I said above that any author of a list should spend at least a day cycling in each city. I’ve starred the cities where I’ve done that – I’ve cycled in 5 cities for at least a day.

I only calculated 20 cities. Ideally I’d calculate it for the top 50 most populous cities AND for every city that’s been ranked by LAB.

LAB cities list (PDF). My spreadsheet (XLS).

Just bought some new books (bikes and urban planning stuff)

Two books: Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path (haven’t finished) and Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic (finished).

While I hurry and finish up this 900 page CIA spy novel (The Company by Robert Littell) that I bought for $1 in Richmond, VA, I bought a couple more books. I still have to finish Straphanger, too!

I ordered Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (book link) by Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch that I found on the blog Human Transit. I also ordered City Cycling by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler; this book won’t be available until October 19th. I applied for the Ph.D. program at the urban planning college at Rutgers University where both men teach. I was not accepted. Boo, hoo. But Pucher and Buehler are the foremost researchers on bicycling around the world (they mostly research bicycling in English-speaking countries and compare them to places in Europe).

Some more books that I want to read eventually:

1. Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Peterson.

I flipped through this book at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum book store after viewing the Bikes! The Green Revolution exhibit on its last day. One of the features in the book was why you shouldn’t ride in a straight and predictable line in urban traffic (as the Chicago Bike Map and other resources articulate). Instead you should be controllably unpredictable, to demonstrate to drivers that you’re a little wobbly and they should give you more space. There’s also guidance on choosing and maintaining a bicycle. I’d like to know what Peterson has to say about that. This reminds me, I had a short discussion with a friend (who hasn’t biked in years) who’s reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There’s a lot in there that’s not instructions on fixing a motorbike that I’d like to peruse.

2. Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes.

I probably won’t read this book; I feel it’s one of those books that will be full of everything I already know. Or it will be preaching to the choir. Or it will help me feel great about myself and my choices and inspire me to do something right this moment but I won’t because I’m busy with other stuff. And then I’ll tell everyone else to read it. But really, I just want others to read it and others to see how I (think) I am changing (one) American city (which involves me pedaling a bicycle and constantly living to tell about it). It’s really hard to change cities alone or with just a small group of people. We need more people who are willing to get involved. Bring your own ideas, act on your own ideas, or come borrow mine (or some of the ideas in the myriad sustainable transportation groups and communities I’m involved in).

When I’m not reading, I’m making the Chicago Bike Map app. Please buy it. Support a starving college student. Oh, wait, that was never really my style. But I do want an iPad…

What books are you reading?

I updated some formatting of this post. It’s ugly to have all these links to books with long titles. 

This city now runs on bikes and bees

Bicycling in Chicago is as much about having cheap transportation* as a thing to build new and maintain existing social relationships. And sometimes everything can come together in such an awesome way that you build a freakin’ business on the back of a bicycle.

I also posted about this on Grid Chicago.

Such is the case with many of my friends, including Jana Kinsman and Brandon Gobel. Jana created Bike-A-Bike and got several thousands of “startup” dollars via her Kickstarter. Brandon uses his sweet Bullitt to deliver odds and ends around town. And on April 3, 2012 (and other days), Brandon got to help Jana deliver beehives. They were empty that day but they went out on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, with real, live bees in his Bullitt’s aluminum box.

Here’s a 22 photo slideshow of the April 3 trip. Brandon sent me a bunch of photos from the April 18 trip and I’ll add those to the slideshow soon. Just come back in a day and they will be on this page, and on my Flickr.

You’ll find the bees buzzing in East Garfield Park and at The “Awesome” Plant (er, just The Plant) in Back of the Yards.

* I’ve seen a lot of polls ask, “Why do you bike?” and they always have answers I don’t care about. Like, “for fun”, or “for the environment”. Yeah, right. The most significant motivator for why people do anything is how much it costs them. Bicycling is cheap, nearly free. The bus is downright expensive compared to it, and driving a car everywhere (like 60 miles round trip to work) is personal economic suicide.

Bike racks, so contentious

A new bike rack installation in Richmond, Indiana. Congratulations!

Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation says, “I once hosted a forum about a new bike rack that lasted 7 hours. Now when I need these people to complain, they’re done in 45 minutes”.

Video tour of Open Streets

What is Open Streets?
It’s when a street is closed to cars and transformed into a safe place for fun and recreation. Read more on Grid Chicago.

Filmed by Steven Vance while sitting on the cargo deck of a Larry vs. Harry Bullitt, John Player Spezial. Cycling by Brandon Gobel, Bullitt owner.

Filmed with a handheld Sony DSC-HX5V. Edited with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.

What I’ve done recently

My calendar, I guess.

And tried to go kayaking yesterday with Erehwon staff, but arrived too late.

From the “Hang In There” gallery opening at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. I don’t know what this is about.

My protected bike lane drawing from 2007

I was looking through my most popular bits on Flickr and came across this drawing I made in January 2007.

Notice how I put a bike rack in the street. Portland starting on-street bike parking corrals in 2002, I believe.

It looks surprisingly like the Kinzie Street bike lane 😉

I cannot remember from where I got the inspiration to draw this. I hadn’t yet traveled to New York City or Portland; I probably saw a drawing of this on Streetsblog for a facility that would soon be built in New York City (9th Avenue cycle track popped up later in 2008).

I don’t remember my obsession with bicycle planning beginning that early.

Make up a slogan, win this hat

Erin of Kozie Prery, a Chicago craftster, has generously donated a custom-made cycling cap to the winning reader of Steven Can Plan.

This hat is mine and you can’t have it. You will get to choose from one that’s already made (for sale on her Etsy Shop) or have one created with a style and color you choose. I wore my hat all winter (from January to May 2011, pretty much) and I liked its warmth and softness. It’s also very small and I can stuff it into my jacket or back pants pocket. Erin’s hats are made of reclaimed textiles (she calls them “upcycled”).

How do you win?

Come up with a catchy or clever slogan that you think will attract people to ride their bikes more often, or, for those who don’t currently ride, encourage them to start riding a bike!

Tips:

  • Consider why you ride a bike
  • Think of why people don’t currently ride a bike
  • Make a list of the places people ride bikes
  • What kinds of trips do people make are more convenient by bike than by other modes?

Imagine your slogan on billboards, postcards, flyers, t-shirts, etc…

In February I came up with the postcard below featuring my sister and a quote I made up.

“A bike, think about it” comes from Mikael of Copenhagenize.

Rules after the jump.

Continue reading

Maureen and I are very similar

I don’t know Maureen, and she doesn’t know me, but Streetsblog contributor, and #bikeNYC portrait photographer Dmitry Gudkov, wrote about “why Maureen rides.”

I wrote about why I ride in a submission to Urban Velo magazine last December for its segment, “I Love Riding in the City.” I had a pretty lame answer to, “Why do you love riding in the city?” saying “It’s a lot easier than riding in the suburbs.”

I read Maureen’s response to why cycling is her favorite form of transport in New York.

“I like to keep moving; I don’t ever want to wait, if I can help it. But more than anything I love that the bike lets me be physical in the city.” Her favorite time to ride is late at night, with the solitary journeys giving her a sense of the city she wouldn’t have otherwise. “When I’m biking home from my studio at 1 or 2 in the morning along the empty bike path, I feel like this is my park. This piece of the city belongs to me.”

And now I want to expand my response:

I can’t stand waiting! That’s what you have to do when you drive a car or take public transit. You wait for the traffic in front of you to move, or you wait for the bus or train! (I admit that the Chicago Transit Authority’s Bus and Train Trackers allow you to wait less if you plan your trip well.) By riding a bicycle, you only have to wait for the light to change!

Then this past weekend I was remarking to my friend Francesco that I prefer riding through Chicago in the middle of the night because less traffic makes the street quieter, less congested, and less polluted. This stretch of the street belongs to me.

Me riding home late at night after a concert seeing Pantha du Prince at Empty Bottle in West Town.

Win a group entry to Chicago’s Urban Assault ride on May 22

From the website: “The Urban Assault Ride is the biggest bicycle scavenger hunt series in the nation!

Here’s how it works: You and your teammate will set out on a city-wide quest for ‘checkpoints’ on your favorite two-wheeled steeds.  At each checkpoint, you’ll drop your bikes and complete a funky/adventurous obstacle course, then remount your bikes and hit the streets for more.”

I volunteered in 2008 with my coworker/roommate Frank. Promoter Sarah contacted me and we’re offering Steven Can Plan readers a free group entry (you and a friend) to the hunt on Sunday, May 22. She says that the ride is “about turning recreation and fitness cyclists into bike commuters by providing them with a fun and non-threatening opportunity to discover the Chicago bike infrastructure.”

I definitely had a lot of fun operating the Keg Walk checkpoint where costumed racers walked on mini kegs across a grassy field in Lincoln Park (see photos below).

So how do you win?

  • Tweet your favorite Steven Can Plan blog post now until Saturday, May 14th. You can do this as many times as you want but you get one entry!
  • Make sure to mention @stevevance and write #favepost in the tweet so I know you tweeted for this contest.
  • I’ll make a list of everyone who tweeted a post and mentioned me and then pick someone using a random number from Random.org.
  • I’ll announce the winner on Sunday, May 15th, via Twitter.
  • You’ll have to come to get your packet a week later on Saturday, May 21st, at Murphy’s Bleachers, 3655 North Sheffield.

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