Posts by tom

Columbus as “Smart City”

My Facebook feed is atwitter with urbanist friends congratulating Columbus for winning the USDOT's Smart City Challenge, getting $50M in federal funds for so-called "smart" transportation. My take: No thanks.

Bike Austin

My impression is that Bike Austin's strategy is to normalize cycling. For many years in the U.S., cycling was an exceptional activity, generally not viewed as something that could be integrated with daily life. Leading a group ride on a city bike, in street clothes, and without a helmet is more than a collection of personal choices: it's a statement about a different way to conceptualize cycling in the city. You're a lot more likely to ride from the brew pub to the café if it's OK to jump on any old bike in the clothes you happen to be wearing.

Spring Fling

From the bike rental place we were headed out to Bike Austin's Spring Fling ride. This was a slightly more organized social ride than the ones I'd done in Charlotte; a $10 entry fee got you a beer at the start, coffee at the midpoint, and beer at the finish, all from local businesses who support cycling. Like the social rides in Charlotte, the idea was to have a non-lycra, low speed, fun group ride with a focus on seeing different parts of the city.

Protected bike lane

We rented bikes from an operation located on one of Austin's protected bike lanes, and rolled out to survey the streets. My personal opinion on this facility: Meh.

Research assistants

I was joined in Austin by two research assistants: my wife and our friend April. We headed out to East Sixth Street to discuss the logistics of doing surveys, and to conduct an evening count in the district.

Landing in Austin

Arriving in Austin, I did a bike count at a Portlandia-style coffee roaster in East Austin. Austin's industrial expansion, along with the continued development of the music district along nearby East 6th Street is clearly driving changes to the neighborhood, and some of those changes are associated with cycling; I was just down the street from the pedicab garage.

Comparing cities

A question I'm trying to answer is, why are utility cycling rates higher in some U.S. cities than others? It's tricky to investigate for a number of reasons. The first is simple: Our data sucks. The second is complex: It's just a difficult question. Utility cycling rates are driven by countless factors: the density and nature of the built environment, the character of the street network, weather, demographics, socioeconomic status, culture, and more. Each city has its own unique combination of these factors; extracting causal relationships from the paltry data is quite challenging.

Golden Age

On Friday night I did a bike/ped count at the Birdsong Brewery, which I'd been told was the place to see lots of bikes. The count turned out to be as just as fruitless as the others I'd done (a total of four bike riders in two hours), but the trip was fruitful. Even though I'd only been in town a few days, there were several people at the bar who I had already met. After a while, the group checked Strava to find their other cycling friends, who turned out to be at a different brewery.

Counts

I'm doing bike and pedestrian counts at selected parts of the city transportation network. The data that exists on cycling volumes in different cities is very spotty; the national American Community Survey data only covers work commute cycling and isn't spatially located within the city. Unfortunately, in Charlotte the location didn't seem to matter much; in none of the places I conducted a count in Charlotte did I see more than 5 bikes in a 2-hour period.

Greenways

Charlotte is putting a lot of effort into developing greenways with multi-use paths. For utility cyclists, the creek paths are a mixed bag. One thing I immediately noticed in surveying them is that they're poorly connected to the street grid. They're also not maintained as if they are part of the transportation network.

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