Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another Year, Another Hour

Progress is slow in our fair city.
This from Transportation Alternatives:
The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today that car-free time in Central Park will be increased by one hour in the morning on the park's West Drive, starting Monday, August 6.

Although this was less of an incremental improvement than we had hoped for from the new administration at DOT, with this additional hour the West Drive is open to traffic for only two hours a day, from 8-10 am, and we're one step closer to a completely car-free park.

I've long had mixed feelings about the wonderful people at Transportation Alternatives. They get more done than I do, but that's not saying much. I do find it amusing and a bit sad that this e-mail implies that the park is only open to cars for 2 hours. Why are they spinning reality? The East drive up to 72nd St. is packed with speeding cars 12 hours a day. The 12 hours I might use the park it if it weren't for the cars.

If we win an hour per side each year year, the park might just be car free for my 50th birthday.

Read more about this latest news from streetblog.org.

I'm telling you, I have the answer. But who listens to me?

Warm Showers

Some of you may know Hospitality Club(.org) or Couch Surfing(.com). These are places you can mooch free lodging from people and be nice and give people a place to stay. Great idea.

My wife and I are actually members of the former, but we've never hosted anybody (or asked anybody for hospitality—when we travel, we tend to stay with friends or go to places cheap enough that we can afford a clean bed).

But when you live in New York City, you’re always in demand. And that’s fine. And we're that rare bread in New York in that we're not actually rich but do actually have space for guests. We like guests. One of the great things about living in New York is that eventually, everybody comes to see you. Another reason to never leave Astoria.

So a few people have asked to stay with us through Hospitality Club and I’ve said no. Most of that is simple timing. We travel a lot and we also have lots of friends stay over at home. But there’s something deeper.

We don't mind strangers staying with us, but we want some filter. We don't want every 20-year-old who can log-on to a web site staying with us. I'm sure they're all nice and all... but as a hint if you do this kind of thing: if the host gives you a name or some information, use it. The cut-and-paste request is kind of lame.

Still, there's something deeper, something psychological about opening up your house to strangers who are vetted only by their online good name and their willingness to e-mail. Just because you’re rich enough to travel but poor enough to want free lodging seems like a lame reason to help somebody. We need some control. Whatever the reasons, I've said no to everybody.

Why say yes to some and no to others? You can never host everybody. So why help somebody with access to a computer when there are tons of desperate and deserving and poor and computer illiterate people in the world (and city) that would love a warm bed and shower?

Well now there's something better: Warm Showers(.org). Along with the plus of sounding vaguely obscene, this is a great concept.... Because it’s limited to people who bike. The idea is you take long bike rides and kind people give you access to their shower, or perhaps a bed.

Liking bikes myself, the idea of helping bikers seems like the perfect fit. We can do a good deed, meet people who are probably nice, and at the very least, share something in common with your guests. Hell, I've even got tools.

Personally, I have a few concerns about the privacy aspects of their website. But the guys who run it are real people who volunteer their time and just seem awfully nice. Sign up. Host somebody. Maybe you’ll even meet me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Path of Least Congestion

July 18, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
New York Times
The Path of Least Congestion

CONGESTION pricing came to a halt after a head-on collision with Albany on Monday. The New York State Senate decided not to take up Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to charge a fee to drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, causing New York City to miss a deadline to apply for federal financing that would have been essential for the program.

Now what?

If Mr. Bloomberg is serious about reducing automobile congestion and carbon emissions, he has two options: discourage car trips, or encourage other trips. To date, he has embraced the first of these two solutions. What’s more, he has very specifically modeled his vision for New York’s future on London, where a congestion pricing plan has operated for several years.

But now the prospects of adopting a London-style plan look bleak. If it turns out that New Yorkers are not yet prepared to embrace congestion pricing, and if Albany remains its intransigent self, Mr. Bloomberg should get over his fascination with London — and look instead at what’s happening in Paris.

Last week, Bertrand Delanoë, Paris’s maverick and popular mayor, introduced the world’s largest and most ambitious bike-share program: 10,600 bikes (scaling up to 20,600 by the end of the year) available at 750 “docking stations” situated every 1,000 feet. With a swipe of a credit card and a modest fee, Parisians (and tourists) can now pick up or drop off a bike in any neighborhood in the city. Riders no longer need to worry about storing their bikes in tiny apartments. The program’s high-tech stations make theft virtually impossible. And with about twice as many bike stations as Métro stops, a free bike is pretty much always within reach.

New York’s subways and buses are already at capacity, and as we prepare to add one million new residents by 2030, our existing mass transit will require improvements that will take years (if not generations) to put in place. Mr. Bloomberg has fewer than 1,000 days left as mayor. His best chance at securing an environmentalist legacy is to embrace bike-sharing.

Sure, the mayor could start with a small and inexpensive bike-share program as early as next summer (say, on Governors Island). But really, what’s that going to achieve? Shouldn’t our mayor, a man who is supposed to be above politics, act more boldly? Once the Paris program demonstrates that bike-sharing can get people out of their cars and off the transit grid, Mr. Bloomberg should grab a page from the Parisian playbook and transform New York into the most bike-friendly metropolis in America.

Take Manhattan south of 86th Street (the exact parameters of the proposed congestion pricing zone). Imagine introducing 10,000 bikes, with stations at every avenue and every four streets. Now imagine taking a bike, at virtually no cost, from the Metropolitan Museum to the Metropolitan Opera, from Union Square to Chelsea Piers, from the Upper East Side to Wall Street, or from Times Square to Battery Park City.

Even a program as extensive as this would be much less expensive than any other transportation alternative on the table. One industry expert suggests that the cost to manufacture, install and maintain a program for 10 years comes to about $8,000 a bike. The program described above would cost New York about $8 million a year (which could be reduced depending on whether the city would be willing to allow advertising on the bicycles). In perspective: that’s a minuscule fraction of the estimated $2.1 billion cost of the 7 line subway extension now under way.

Keep in mind, too, that New York City travel is uniquely suited to such a program: most automobile trips in the city are under five miles, well within reach of even out-of-shape New Yorkers.

Of course, if New York were to add thousands of bikes to its streets, it would also need to create hundreds of new bike lanes. But this is not a financial or engineering challenge — just a political one. All that’s needed is to reallocate one automobile lane on each avenue and most cross-town streets, and the mayor can do that without having to win Albany’s approval.

For a mayor whose disdain for cars is already on record — and an administration already committed to adding new bike lanes — this shouldn’t be any more daring to introduce than congestion pricing.

Last week, I organized an experimental bike-share program in SoHo, with the Storefront for Art and Architecture. We offered free, 30-minute bike rentals to any adult with valid identification. Over five days, hundreds of people expressed their support. These weren’t just cycling activists — in fact, the most excitement came from people who didn’t even own bikes because they couldn’t stand the hassle of trying to store one in the city.

This small experiment seemed to me to be a clear sign that the ridership for a bike-share program is ready and waiting; all that’s needed is some mayoral leadership. With the London model all but dead, Mr. Bloomberg would do well to pay a visit to Paris.

David Haskell, the executive director of the Forum for Urban Design, is the founder of the New York Bike-Share Project.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What I did on my Summer Vacation

I need to mention that I feel a little better about passing on the Turkey to Greece bike trip. Even though it would have been memorable, and I would have remembered it for the rest of my life, and I would have gotten my name and picture in some Greek papers for bike riding... it was fucking hot in that part of the world! Not just, oh my god it’s hot. But record setting 115 degree in the shade hot. I could only deal with that because I was on a beach where I could jump into the chilly Aegean. But to be biking uphill at 2pm in the sun with my eye-balls melting? My fucking word!

Maybe they’ll do it again next year and it will only be a blistering 95. I can handle that.

These are the wonderful beaded handlebar grips, cable covers, and brake handle covers. They may actually come in the arrive in the mail today. At least they’re supposed to. Along with making great gifts (I mean, pimp this ride, baby!), I’m hoping they’ll sell for a fortune on e-bay and then I can then monopolize the beaded bike accessory import business!

The charming bike store where I bought the beaded work. The man then shared his lunch and offered to give us a bike for our first born. Made me think we overpaid. But everybody in Syria was that nice. Sure, we probably could have haggled, but it’s not like they were expensive. And the lunch was delicious.

Here’s a handy way to modify a bike to become a roaming bike coffee and tea vendor. Latakia, Syria. Just ignore all the Bashar pictures… I mean, there was just an election the previous week. He won. Uh, unanimously, I believe.

You’ll just have to trust me that this man delivers his bread on that bike. In fact, the majority of bikers are swerving around Cairo carrying bread on their heads, often without functioning brakes.

Elsewhere in Cairo, and this has nothing to do with bikes, I just want to play with all the porn-loving google-image searchers, here are real nekkid cameltoes for sale! This from the “Friday Market” in Cairo. Hey, I didn’t kill the camels, I just took the picture.

For complete pictures of these summer travels, click here.