June 18, 2008

Next-gen bike sharing comes to the U.S., in Washington

Washington, D.C. is launching what Time magazine calls "America's first high-tech bike-sharing program," featuring "key-card locking systems and tracking devices to prevent theft."

The idea is inspired by popular bike-sharing programs abroad, especially Paris's Vélib. Notes Time:
"Although places like Copenhagen, Lyons and Barcelona are big on bike-sharing, the City of Lights boasts the crème de la crème, with 20,600 bikes and about 1,450 stations--four times the number of Parisian metro stops. It's hard to walk more than two blocks without running into a bike rack, which helps explain why the program has already yielded a 5% drop in car traffic. Paris has also removed lots of parking spots to make way for bike stations.

But making things convenient for riders is a major production. Some 400 people work full-time to ensure that the Vélib program runs smoothly. Every day trucks have to move bikes around to meet rush-hour demands, and a barge along the Seine serves as a floating bike-repair shop. "

Not surprisingly, America's first effort is very much more modest, with just 120 bicycles and 10 stations. However, city officials know that will need to scale up considerably in order for the program to be a serious commuting alternative.

In Paris, the effort is quite serious. "We conceived of this as a public-transportation system, so it operates as one," Bernard Parisot, head of the company running Vélib, told Time. In contrast, most U.S. communities view cycling as a hobby indulged in by a few, and not a key mode of transport on par with autos or even subways. Then again, most U.S. communities view walking as an optional activity, not an important mode of transport, as evidenced by lack of snow clearing in winter, not to mention roadways actively hostile to people walking from place to place (case in point: it's all but impossible for me to walk from my office to Shoppers World, less than a mile away, because of dangerous intersections and lack of sidewalks).

A few cities, though, are taking cycling seriously for transportation, such as Portland, Minneapolis and Denver, Time notes. "For bikes to become a mainstay of the morning rush, cities need to spend time and money expanding bike fleets and making streets safer for two-wheelers. That means creating dedicated bike lanes and ticketing cars that double-park in them."

Perhaps soaring gasoline prices may finally create more pressure for municipal officials to take cycling, walking and mass transit more seriously as alternatives to the private automobile.

June 17, 2008

Bring an eatery to Boston Common!

If you think about your favorite urban spaces, chances are good they're "mixed use" in many ways. They likely encourage multiple forms of transit, not just the automobile; and they mix people living, working, shopping and relaxing so there's street life throughout the day and evening. Add in some outdoor space and restaurants with outdoor cafe seating, and if it's well designed, chances are you've got a space worth visiting.

That's why I was so encouraged to see that Boston officials are thinking of putting some kind of sit-down eatery in Boston Common. Adding a place to enjoy lunch or dinner in the midst of the city's green oasis is a great idea that, if done well, will make the Common more of an appealing destination. City officials reportedly traveled to New York City recently to check out a restaurant in Central Park.

"Boston officials, marveling at the vibrant scenes they found in New York, said they are exploring the idea of establishing a full-scale restaurant, a simple food kiosk, or something in between to attract diners to the Common," the Boston Globe reported. Both parks were designed by famed landscape architect Frederic Law Olmstead.

Many other cities have eateries in their public parks, adding to the enjoyment of visiting. For example, Geneva's botanical garden features an outdoor cafe (buy food inside, bring it out to your table) where you can get beer & wine as well as a nice lunch, and sit outside on a nice day.

June 15, 2008

Mayors’ Conference to consider biking resolution

"Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, IL, has introduced a resolution making the case that bicycling should be integrated into our nation's transportation, climate, energy and health policy initiatives, for consideration and adoption at this year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual meeting, June 20-24 in Miami," according to American Bicyclist Update. Several mayors have already signed on as co-sponsors, including those in Denver, Redmond (Wash.), Santa Barbara, Minneapolis and Charleston (SC).

The resolution notes that since 1980, American miles driven has grown three times faster than the population; that 10% of all global oil production goes to fuel American driving; and that we could save 462 million gallons of gasoline a year by increasing cycling from one percent to one and a half percent of all trips.

June 13, 2008

Framingham and the river

One of the major missed opportunities in Framingham was not leveraging the presence of the Sudbury River into our residential and commercial development patterns. It's easy to spend hours in the Saxonville commercial district and not even notice the nearby river; you have to know about it in order to walk around and behind various buildings to get to the little park near the mill, or to find the Carol Getchell nature trail.

Contrast that with, say, Waltham, where there are obvious walking paths along the river from the heart of the business district, and where restaurants and housing were built to take advantage of being riverfront. Instead, we've got things like a car rental lot blocking views at one of the prime pieces of riverfront commercial real estate in Saxonville. Sigh. Hopefully, someday the old Saxonville Lumber site can be redeveloped to take better advantage of the nearby river. Outdoor cafe seating overlooking the water, anyone?

Meanwhile, if you long for the river to be better integrated into our community (as I do), we've got Riverfest! 2008 this weekend.  Framingham activities include a historic Saxonville walking tour Saturday at 1, an easy canoe trek from Framingham Centre to Saxonville Sunday at 10, and a bird walk along the Carol Getchell Nature Trail Sunday at 7 am.

Other nearby Riverfest activities include Concord River pontoon boat tours in Bedford, Assabet River Walk in Concord, Concord River Paddle (Bedford), History Paddle (Wayland), free canoe rides on the Sudbury River (Southborough), Twilight Canoe (Lincoln), rubber duck race (Sudbury) and lots more. The full listing of activities is here.

June 4, 2008

Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets June 10

The Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee's next meeting is Tuesday, June 10, 7:30 p.m. in Conference Room 1 of the Memorial Building (Town Hall), 150 Concord Street. Looks like the main item on the agenda will be a working session to review draft chapters of the new Framingham Open Space and Recreation Plan that are relevant to pedestrians, hikers and bicyclists.