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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.

Cargo biking, one big sub-sub-culture of American bicycling

Updated May 10, 2011, to include link and information about cargo bike meetup.

As far as the sub-culture of American bicycling goes, cargobikes are quickly becoming one of the fastest sub-sub-cultures.

I’m part of a group of cargobike owners and enthusiasts. We blog and post photographs about our cargo bikes and spread the cargobike love to our friends and neighbors. A friend of mine in Portland, Oregon, first owned a bakfiets (Dutch cargo bike with bucket in front), a Madsen (bucket in back), and now simultaneously owns an orange Yuba Mundo and a black Harry vs. Larry Bullitt (modern, aluminum take on Danish Long John bike).

Travis may like cargobikes more than me – he makes t-shirts!

So what did I do to earn my cargobike chops this month?

I just added five new comments to Dottie’s review of her one-day trip around town with the Yuba Mundo, now for sale at two Chicago local bike shops, J.C. Lind and Blue City Cycles (where mine was born).

I’m also working on emulating this Portland cargo bike meetup for Chicago. My first problem is finding the appropriate bar/restaurant that has a lot of space out front for all the Chicagoans to bring their family and cargo bikes.

Cargo bike meet-up outside Green Dragon Pub in SE Portland. Photo by Jonathan Maus.

I went all the way to Portland, Oregon, to test ride a Yuba Mundo at Joe Bike on Hawthorne. See more photos of my Yuba Mundo or from that trip.

Bikes are social

This entry originally appeared as a guest post on Let’s Go Ride a Bike, last week. I am posting it here now for you and recommending you visit that blog.

Two Mondays ago someone on the sidewalk yelled “Happy birthday” to me while I was riding to Bridgeport through University Village (UIC’s south campus). It was my birthday. I turned around to identify the shouting person. Joe was a classmate and now I most often see him at a local bike shop or playing bike polo. We went inside the store and chatted for awhile.

The bicycle is an extremely social tool. While it helps me get to the places I need to go, it does so in such a way that fosters community and interaction. As I ride, I’m exposed to the whims of the street: the noises, the chatter, the honks, the people, and the people I know. But it also helps me get to know new people.

Ready to zombie?

I met some new people on the Zombie Ride in October that started at West Town Bikes in Humboldt Park and finished at Johnny Sprockets bike shop in Lakeview.

I participated in another bike light distribution with Active Transportation Alliance on November 17, 2010. I photographed a previous distribution in Wicker Park a week earlier. This time around, at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt at the UIC campus, I took a more direct role by flagging people riding bikes without lights to pull over and stop. I would then attach a brand new headlight to their bicycle, courtesy of customers of Groupon and the law office of Jim Freeman. During the two minutes I had their undivided attention, I told them about the state law requiring a front light and the role of Active Transportation Alliance in the city and suburbs.

This time I wanted to record more information about all the people I helped and talked to. I kept a little note card in my pocket and recorded the revealed reasons why the person didn’t have a headlight, how many men and women I helped (I only recorded two categories), and some select quotes.

I think six people refused my offer for a free headlight – this is because they couldn’t hear me (several wore headphones), didn’t understand our intentions, or both. Also confused, a man driving a car said, “You little bastard with your bikes,” but I won’t let anyone distract me.

Genaro gives a free headlight to someone without it

Genaro installs a headlight to someone riding on Halsted Street in University Village.

Of all the people I stopped, I identified 21 men and 11 women (32 total). Four people said they lost their lights or had them stolen and hadn’t yet replaced the lights. One person forgot their lights. 27 of the 32 people riding bikes didn’t know it was state law to ride a bike with a headlight on at night. Here’s what some riders had to say:

“No one told me that!” I suspect this is an extremely common explanation. This is definitely an opportunity for local bike shops to educate their customers, but there are other places people can get this information, like resident advisers at dorms, churches, and workplaces. The Active Transportation Alliance fights tirelessly to instill basic information into the minds of people riding bikes around town.

One person I was talking to hadn’t heard of the Active Transportation Alliance and after I explained to him what the organization does, he said, “My friends and I want to start our own group.”

Someone on foot asked me, “How long are you going to be here? I want my friend to get one.” This guy came back with his friend and they both got free headlights.

Speaking of the bicycling leading me to meetings with people I know, three friends were walking by and said hello. I had met one of them, Andrew, at the same spot, in front of the UIC Skyspace as we both raced in an October 2006 scavenger hunt.

Blues unite!

Walk under the Skyspace to get a direct and undistracted view of the sky and space.

Can we use location-based services to make urban planning “rise”?

Facebook launched a feature called Places that allows its users to “check in” to Places and to see where their friends are. People can also see where the most popular venue is at any given time (provided they have friends there).

SeeClickFix has mobile apps (and a website) that enables users (in participating locales) to report issues (like graffiti and potholes) in their neighborhoods.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones overlay the virtual world (of yellow pages and restaurant reviews) on the physical world depending on where you point your phone’s camera.

Is there something (an app, a concept, a teaching) that we can develop that uses these apps or the same technology to raise awareness of “urban planning” in all of our cities’ citizens? Such a scheme would attempt to educate and involve more people into the city’s social, cultural and built environments, the urban fabric (buzzword alert!), as well as the history of their surroundings.

Possible scenarios

1. While riding the train through a neighborhood, the new location-based service that encompasses everything about urban planning might aggregate information relevant to the location and activity. Perhaps the application would display to the user information about the history of this particular elevated train’s construction on this branch as well as pull up information on upcoming schedule changes. Lastly, the transit operator may ask the user to take a survey about this particular trip, looking for information on how the user accessed the station (via bike, walking, car, or bus?).

2. My friend Brandon Souba created a proof-of-concept app called Handshake that tells you about nearby app users with similar interests. But this hardly raises civic or urban awareness. Maybe non-profit organizations who need volunteers could create profiles in Handshake and when you’re near a staff member or the headquarters, your phone alerts you to a possible volunteer opportunity.

3. What are your ideas?

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