Voting Begins in Pepsi Refresh competition

Starting today you can vote for my bike share project in the Pepsi Refresh Idea competition. You can login and vote at www.refresheverything.com/socialbicycles or vote through Facebook at http://apps.facebook.com/pepsirefresh/
(search ‘sobi’). If we finish in the top 10 we will receive a $50,000 grant for the project.

SoBi is also one of four finalists in the Innovation Erie design competition. The project is on display at the Erie Art Museum through October 31st.

Bike to School Day!

Bike to School day was a Bike Month promotion that I initiated before leaving DOT. I reached out to my friend Rachel who is a teacher at Middle School 51 and she set up a meeting with the principal, who embraced the idea. I then brought the proposed project to my boss at the DOT and it was approved just before I left. The week before the event, Bike New York conducted a ‘bike drivers ed’ and held a bike safety assembly after which DOT Safety Education did a helmet fitting and give-away. Matthew Modine and Bicycle for a Day supplied some bikes for a raffle (courtesy of Fox News!) and together we all rode on Friday, May 28th. Check out the excellent Streetfilm of the event and my Flickr set. The event was a great success and hopefully the start of an annual tradition.

SoBi – The Social Bicycle System

I haven’t updated this blog in a very long time but I am still bike crazy.  For the last year and a half I have been developing a bike share system that uses GPS, mobile communications, and a secure lock that can attach to almost any bicycle.  For more information go to SocialBicycles.com and ‘like’ us on Facebook.

Guest Post: Vincent Pinto

Female Astride Bike

Female Astride Bike

It was a hot and humid August night and everyone wanted to be outside. The sidewalk in front of Gem Spa at Second Avenue and St Marks Place was thronged well past midnight. You could sense the sun’s heat still in the sidewalk even this late. A crowd was waiting to cross Second Avenue. Two young guys waiting on bikes were eying four young women also waiting. The girls knew they were being looked at. The light changed and they crossed.
“Shall we follow them?” one guy asked his buddy.

“That’s what we’re down here for.”

I don’t know how that episode turned out, but it made a visual impression on me that led to a whole series of paintings involving figures on bikes.

Peggy posed for the painting you see here. She was my student and was seventeen or eighteen at the time. The attitude of the painting is in keeping with the scene I just described. I went on to create a number of figures more stylized than you see here—males and females regarding each other and always a bicycle playing the part connecting the figures.

I’ve had a long love affair with bikes. My first was a tricycle with blocks on the peddles. I used to zoom down the gentle hill on my street and make a sharp right at the bottom. That usually tipped me onto two wheels and it was fun. My first bicycle was a one speed, black and red heavy job. I had training wheels for a week or so. I explored all around the neighborhood with it and one day went miles from home—to visit the train yard where the subways were kept.

In decades of riding I had only one accident. Riding near my home in Brooklyn I was looking up instead of down. I didn’t see the pot hole, the bike collapsed, and I broke my elbow. The pain was terrific but the damage to my arm turned out to be minor.

In New York I’ve had three bikes stolen. But I won’t stop riding. I’ve ridden on quiet farm roads in Maine and in the heavy traffic on Seventh Avenue. Its all been great fun and the best way to see the world.

Vincent Pinto

Its been a busy month

There are a couple reasons why I haven’t posted as often this month.  First, I think I am finished ranting.   I feel that I’ve pretty much explained what biking means to me and going forward I want the focus to be on other NY cyclists.  ‘I Bike NY’ was never meant to be “I, Ryan Rzepecki, bike NY”, but rather a collective exclamation — “I Bike NY!!!”  I see so many great New Yorker’s biking, and its time to hear from other people.
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If you would like to contribute to the blog and share your experience of cycling in the city, please email me a pic and a short story and I can add it to the site.

The other reason that I haven’t been actively posting is I that just went through two major transitions and enjoyed the corresponding celebrations. At the end of May, I graduated from Hunter College with a Masters in Urban Planning.  The following week I turned 30.  Graduation was somewhat anti-climactic as this year my only “class” was my DOT internship.  I am still working at the DOT so besides the diploma, very little has changed post graduation.  The passing of my twenties was also not terribly sad or shocking.  I decided not to have a blow-out party and instead had an amazing steak dinner at Peter Luger’s and drinks with a few close friends.  The most exciting thing about my thirtieth was watching Liz mount her roommate’s pink beach cruiser and ride over the Williamsburg bridge to the restaurant.

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After my graduation and birthday celebrations I went home to Erie for a few days, and then fell right back into my chaotic New York lifestyle.  Soon after returning I was welcomed home by an “only in New York” bicycle.

Yes, those are bagels.

Yes, those are bagels.

Back at work, I did some more monitoring of Times Square for the DOT, and saw two very strange things.

A 50+ Naked Cowgirl

A 50+ year old Naked Cowgirl

And a guy doing some sort of crazy man Tai Chi in the crosswalk

And a guy doing some sort of crazy man Tai Chi in the crosswalk

In between rainstorms last week I was in the East Village looking for places to install bike racks. In the process I came across some great abandoned bikes.

Acrobatic Bike 1

Acrobatic Abandoned Bike

Abandoned Bike Yoga

Abandoned Bike Yoga

Abandoned Bike Orgy

Abandoned Bike Orgy

Abandoned bike scrum

Abandoned bike scrum

"I'm sorry that your bike was vandalized but could you please remove it so there is room for the rest of us to lock up.  Thank You."

"I'm sorry that your bike was vandalized but could you please remove it so there is room for the rest of us to lock up. Thank You."

Unfortunately, I missed the bike film festival this year, but walking by the theatre last week I did see this really cool bike…

This old school bike is like a unicycle with a training wheel.

This old school bike is like a unicycle with a training wheel.

I might have missed the BFF, but I did attend another bike related cultural event last week. Guest blogger Roos Stallinga has a piece of her artwork in the Atlantic Gallery, and I attended the opening last Tuesday.  The current exhibit features artwork related to transportation, and its worth checking out.  Below are a few pieces from the collection.

Roos's picture is in the middle

Roos's picture is in the middle

IMG_0182entrance

While at the gallery I met artist Vincent Pinto, who had a few pieces in the exhibit, including these…

Vincent Pinto

Vincent Pinto

Mr. Pinto overheard me talking about my bike projects, and after speaking with him, I convinced him to contribute to this blog.  His post will be the first in a series of guest posts that feature New York cyclists that do not belong to the spandex tribe.  Take it away, Vincent!

In the news…

NY Times City Room Spokes investigates how bike commuters deal with sweat.  Also on Spokes: Adults learn how to bike, how to find a beater bike (for $50 or less), and  bike parking problems.

Chicago’s bike parking center makes New Yorkers jealous.

A Post editorial uses the Hunter College bike study as ammunition, declares bikes (not cars) the biggest menace to pedestrians.

Depression Economics: Bikes outsell cars and trucks in 2009.

The cyclists wins TAs commuter challenge, beating a taxi and the subway from Sunnyside Queens to Columbus Circle.

Mathew Modine eloquently describes why he loves biking. Like me, the actor/activist likes to ride with his hair in the wind, but NYMAG thinks he should wear a helmet.  The League of American Bicyclists are wary of using him as a spokesperson because of his choice, refusing to link to this great videoCopenhagenize defends his choice and blames America’s love of helmets on helmet manufacturers.

Roosevelt Island begins removing bikes from bike racks.  Its good that they are taking action to remove abandoned bikes, but prohibiting overnight parking seems a bit excessive.

David Byrne reviews Jeff Mapes’ book, “Pedaling Revolution”.

Brian Lehrer has his bike stolen.  All together now: Lock the frame, front wheel, and back wheel with locks that costs nearly as much as the bicycle.  Problem solved.

Map bicycle crashes, hazards and thefts at the new website www.bikewise.org.

Schumer gets an ‘A’ from Politicycle.

DKNY sponsors a cycle clothing design competition.

Surprise, surprise — Staten Island doesn’t want bike lanes.

Sarah Goodyear discovers the beauty of slow biking.

Cops on scooters follow critical mass cyclists.

Bicycle access bill is making its way through city council (Streetsblog1, Streetsblog2, Streetsblog3, CityRoom, Observer, NYFI).

TA charts the “safety in numbers” effect that NY is experiencing.  Tom Vanderbilt posts “safety in numbers” stats for London, Copenhagen and the Netherlands.

The Open Planning Project is developing an application to make bulk order requests of bike racks.

Streetfilms covers the Tour de Brooklyn.

Park Slope BID thinks bike lane should be a double parking lane (Streetsblog and Brooklyn Paper).  A follow-up investigation by Streetsblog reveals that local businesses have a delivery problem, not a bike lane problem.  Brooklyn Paper’s follow-up editorial says, no, bike lanes are the problem.

How long is too long for a UPS truck to block a bike lane?

Fox News writer rams cyclist in Central Park.  I needed another reason to hate Fox News?

Ever wonder what a bike theft looks like?  Help me Howard has surveillance video of a bike theft that the NYPD was too busy to investigate.  I feel bad for the woman, but one more time: Lock the front wheel, the back wheel, and the frame with a heavy chain and sturdy ulock.

Streetfilms features the Queens Blvd Bike pool.

The New York State DOT kills the Long Island bike and pedestrian program.

The new plan for the Kent Avenue bike lane was presented to the community board this month.  Brooklyn Paper and Streetsblog have the details.

An accident leads to new plans to regulate the pedicab industry.

Broadway improvements go beyond Times Square, the DOT is working toward better bike lanes from Columbus Circle to the Flat Iron.

The bicycle film festival ran from Wednesday to Sunday.

Streetsblog explains how bike and ped programs are federally funded.

Let the debate begin: Do pedicabs belong in bike lanes? Though regulations are necessary, I see no reason why they can’t share the lane.  They are after all bikes, despite their carlike capacity.

LADOT compares cyclists to insects.  Get outta the way, or get squashed!

New Department of NY Health Commissioner afraid to bike in New York.  Oh wait, no, not afraid, uh, just waiting for his bike.

Broadway Boulevard, in the news…

With car-free Times Square approaching its one month anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to link to the media coverage of the project.  Overall, it seems the reaction of the press and the public has been pretty positive.  Tourists and locals alike are enjoying the novelty of the new space, even though it is still raw and unfinished.  Taxi and delivery truck drivers had obvious complaints, emergency response workers had concerns, and local businesses were not sure if the closing would be a blessing or a curse.  The beach chairs underwent excessive scrutiny, and a few cranky critics called it a “Bloomberg vanity project”, which it most certainly is not.

This project was obviously going to be controversial, and I think the Mayor showed great leadership by trusting the recommendation of his Transportation Commissioner.  As the clear favorite for reelection, the Mayor had more to lose than to gain by closing Broadway just months before the vote.  If this project had caused serious traffic problems and paralyzed the city, it would have been an embarassing failure, and could actually have cost him the election.  I think its another example of him putting politics aside, trusting the right people, and making the decision based on what is best for the city.  Anyway, below are links to the local coverage of the Times Square closure.  Enjoy…

May 24th:

NY Times: People flood the space minutes after the closure.

May 25th:

Daily News: Taxi drivers think its stupid. Business owners are cautiously optimistic.

NPR: Audio interview with transportation writer Matt Dellinger.

Huffington Post: New York’s love hate relationship with cars, and car-free Broadway.

NY Times Architecture Review: New design needs to “reflect the urban toughness of the city”.

May 26th:

Post: Street performers, sun bathers, and pedicabs rejoice.  But cab and truck drivers revolt.

NY1: Video of Times Square loungers and loathers.

NY Times CityRoom Blog: The debate rages on in the comments section.

Daily News: Hope Cohen applauds the project and would like to see Broadway closed from Columbus Circle to Union Square.

May 27th:

Streetsblog’s editor shares his experience of car-free Times Square and puts the closure in the context of the greater livable streets movement.

The Post ran three articles on the 27th:

  1. “Smooth Rush-hour Debut” – traffic is moving but emergency response workers and business owners are still wary.
  2. Amanda Peyser wrote a ridiculously uninformed editorial calling the project “ferociously dumb”.  The chairs are cheap, Europeans like it (so it must be bad), people were smoking!, and real New Yorkers must pay the price.  Must read for people that like  inflammatory drivel (O’Reilly fans?).
  3. A third article was dedicated to making fun of the beach chairs, calling them “cheesy and tacky“. Uh, for the last time, they were bought at the last minute by the Times Square Alliance and were a temporary gesture, not a permanent treatment.

News: Truck drivers complain about the loss of curbside delivery, but woman says “New Yorker’s can get used to anything and everything.”

May 28th:

Post: Broadway closure causes business boom for street vendors and naked cowboys.

May 29th:

AnimalNewYork: Video of “real New Yorkers” enjoying Times Square.

May 31st:

News: It had only been a week, but the News wants the traffic data.

NY Magazine: The informality and impromptu nature of the closure has made it a delirious carnival.

June 7th:

NY Times: Funny, those tacky, tasteless, cheesy beach chairs seem to be in high demand.

June 8th:

News: Mike Lupica thinks “Bloomberg Beach” is just a vanity project, revenge for congestion pricing defeat.

June 10th:

Post: The High Line opens, wins high praise.  Post declares it much better than “trash-strewn Times Square pedestrian mall.”

Times: The full story behind the Times Square beach chairs.

June 18th:

NY1: Times Square businesses thriving, despite the recession.

Green Light for Midtown an Early Success!

From Times Square Closure

Many predicted midtown gridlock, business failure, and widespread confusion. Surprisingly after one week, the closure of Broadway has not brought on the Apocalypse. In fact, traffic may actually be moving better.

I spent the majority of last week in the field monitoring traffic in and around Times Square. DOT staff were placed at key intersections and observations were made from 11th Avenue to 5th Avenue and from Columbus Circle to Herald Square. In addition, there was always at least one staff member on duty at 48th and Broadway instructing drivers that if they wished to continue south, they needed to make a left and use 7th Avenue. It was shocking how many drivers still did not realize they could not go straight on Broadway, despite multiple signs on every block and large electronic highway signs throughout midtown that had been in place for weeks.

While directing traffic I was also informally collecting feedback, as many drivers would offer their opinion on the change. Most drivers were thankful for the directions, and continued on slightly confused, but not upset. A few however, offered harsh criticism. One cop said this would make it hard for them to respond to jobs and would “put the city in a depression”. A hotel doorman flatly stated that the plan wouldn’t work and a condo property manager was concerned about the lost loading zone in front of his building. A few motorists said this was “the stupidest thing the Mayor has done” and one said Bloomberg should retire and “go feed pigeons in the park.” Many people complained that it took them much longer to get to where they wanted to go, but I just don’t think that is true. The DOT is collecting detailed traffic data and at some point will likely release the results, but from my casual observation, traffic looked no worse than on any other workday in midtown.

So not only has the city created an amazing new public space, it appears traffic is no worse, and is perhaps moving better. This was, after all, the point of the project, as it was approved as a traffic and safety improvement. Broadway breaks our grid and creates nasty intersections (but distinctive public spaces) where it intersects with the avenues. Its still early, but it seems closing Broadway at these intersections was the right medicine, and travel times up 6th Avenue and down 7th Avenue may improve once people are comfortable with the reconfiguration.

I really want this project to be a success.  A catastrophic failure would make it difficult for the agency to continue the great work it has done under Sadik-Khan.  I also hope it works because for the first time since I have lived here, I actually like Times Square.

From Times Square Closure

Many have derided this project as something for the tourists or the elite, but I think it is something that every New Yorker can enjoy.  Imagine wanting to go to Times Square. How strange.  Since I have lived here it has been a place to be avoided at all costs. A place where swarms of bewildered and bedazzled tourists hogged the sidewalks, walking at a snails pace while the rest of us have to get somewhere.  The beautiful thing about this project is it has given those tourists a place to lounge and linger, and returned the sidewalks to fast-walking midtown office workers, many of whom might choose to eat lunch in the plaza later that afternoon.  The potential of the space is incredible, and relaxing in the middle of Broadway is delightfully surreal.  I’m excited to see the finished product, and am confident its something that will fundamentally change the New York experience.

From Times Square Closure

Helmets in New York

This morning streetsblog briefly featured a comment I made about helmets.  I’ve kind of avoided talking about helmet use because when I do I feel like an atheist at a Jehovah’s Witness convention.  People feel very strongly about wearing a helmet, and like a religious zealot, they will try to scare you into putting one on.  Instead of saying “You are going to hell,” a helmet zealot will tell you “You are going to get killed.”  Oddly, I find that many of the people insisting I wear a helmet don’t even bike in NYC, so I wonder how much they actually know about the conditions for cyclists here.

The debate is not as one sided as the helmet police would have you believe, as there is evidence both for and against helmets.  First of all, its not clear if helmets save lives, as a high speed colision will likely be fatal whether or not your head is encased in styrofoam.   A British study found that vehicles drive closer to cyclists wearing helmets, which increases your chance of being struck.  Finally, places with mandatory helmet laws generally experience a  decrease in cyclists and an overall negative impact on public health.

There is a risk involved for almost every activity in daily life.  You can choke on a chicken wing, slip in the shower, or get run over when walking through a crosswalk.  Far more people receive head injuries when riding in motor vehicles, yet there is not an outcry for helmet use in cars.

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In one of my first posts, “Bike commuting is not a sport,” I included the following disclaimer:

*Helmets are required by law for cyclists 13 and under. I would also say they are important for cyclists new to biking and/or biking in New York. My family, friends, and co-workers definitely do not approve of me biking without a helmet, and I am not trying to encourage other people to ride without one. But this country is about personal choice, and I quite simply do not like to wear them. I am not a high-speed racing cyclist, a bmx mountain biker, or a trick cyclist. I bike at low speeds, with caution, and am comfortable with the risk involved.

That pretty much sums it up.  Feel free to wear your helmets, but don’t chastise me for riding with my hair in the wind.  There are probably more than 1 billion people in the world regularly cycling and it is only here in North America that a helmet is considered essential. The way to make cycling safer is not by putting a helmet on every head, but by putting more cyclists on the streets.  Promoting helmet use and placing the emphasis on safety is not the way to market cycling. If biking is seen as a “sport” that is dangerous and requires special gear then people won’t see what a convenient and delightful mode of transporation it can be.

Note: Let me stress that this is my own personal policy and opinion.  The DOT, most advocacy organizations, and many sane and intelligent people have a different opinion. Encouraging people to wear helmets is not a bad thing, as long as it does not decrease the number of people that actually ride.  If you can figure a way out to both increase cycling and helmet use, I’m all for it.

Hunter College releases a study on law-breaking cyclists

If you haven’t read about it on the Times Spokes Blog, be sure to check  out the article and comments page, where a fierce  debate is being held.

First of all, I had Professor Milczarski for a few classes and I know him to be passionate about transportation planning and an advocate for cycling.  He spent a semester teaching in Paris and happily used the Velib bike share system to travel around the city.  I don’t think that this study was an attack on cyclists, but rather it was an attempt to draw attention to an issue they felt affected public safety.   I don’t doubt that the results of the study are representative of cyclist behavior in New York, but I do wonder if this behavior represents a serious threat to public safety, one that warrants such intensive study.  Unlike the distracted motorists that Professor Tuckel studied previously, a cyclist is not piloting two-tons of steel at 50 MPH.  Given the relative threat posed by the two modes of transit, I think further study on bad driving should be the priority.

Look, we all know that cyclists routinely break traffic laws. TA’s Wiley Norvel’s response is that bike infrastructure is poor and cyclists break laws to protect themselves.  He believes that when conditions improve, cyclists will break the law less.  For some behaviors this has indeed been true, and you do find significantly less sidewalk riding after the installation of the 9th Avenue protected lane.  For other behaviors this is not true, as it seems the extremely wide protected lanes have led to an increase in cycling against traffic.  This is undoubtedly because cyclists feel safer riding in a protected lane against traffic than they do riding in a regular lane with traffic.  The bikesnob has a serious problem with bike salmon, but I can understand why a cyclist might choose to ride counter-flow in 8-10′ protected lane.

The other problem with this argument is that even if every street and avenue had its own protected lane, we’d continue to see cyclist run lights.  The constant stopping at lights timed for motor vehicles makes cycling far less efficient.  Watch Spencer Boomhower’s great video to understand why we hate to stop so much.

Probably the only thing that would stop cyclists running lights would be a draconian crackdown by the NYPD, which thankfully hasn’t happened yet.  While I’d like to see a law that would allow cyclists to treat stop lights as yeild signs, I doubt that will ever happen here.  So instead we are left with the status quo, which is weak enforcement of a bad law.  A bike is a unique form of transportation and the laws that apply to cars and pedestrians do not regulate this mode very well.  The reason why we see so many cyclists break the law is that it doesn’t match the cyclist’s idea of what’s safe and reasonable.

Because cyclists follow common sense rather than the law they are painted as reckless lawbreakers, but we aren’t the only ones breaking laws in New York.  Cars here often do not signal, run through red lights, and violate the city’s 35 MPH limit.  Pedestrians completely disregard “don’t walk” signs and jaywalk when the intersection is clear, and often when it is not.  I’ve had many conflicts with pedestrians when I have the light and they are jaywalking, yet they’ll be the ones to scream at me. I’d love to see a study documenting how many pedestrians stop at “don’t walk” signs.  The only people I see waiting for lights are confused midwestern tourists.

And that’s okay, because I believe peds rule the streets.  I don’t mind weaving in and out of peds as they jay-walk in front of me or even dodging them when they are standing in my bike lane.  I’ve even come to terms with people double parking cars in my lane, because it actually does seem a bit unreasonable to block a moving traffic lane rather than partially obstructing a bike lane.  I can get by, and I do get by.

I know that when I walk, I hate cars and cyclists.  When I am in a car, I hate people walking slowly through the crosswalk or darting out in front of me.   When I’m a cyclist, I hate cars cutting me off and peds with ipods in their ears.  And when I’m driving a horse drawn carriage, I hate everyone.  So when I’m walking, driving, biking, or horsing, I try to be respectful of others and not be someone I would hate if the roles were reversed.