Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bike Lane Graffiti Makes Cycling (Even MORE) Fun

I've found a few examples of bike lane modifications that I think will have you saying "Wow, there's really nothing like a little guerrilla bike lane creativity."

The first is an image that breaks down the fundamental differences between bicycles and automobiles:

The message is clear and simple: Not only are bikes cheaper to operate, but they are also better for your health, and this dichotomy is especially stark when the two options are juxtaposed and worded as they are. Environmental and quality of life benefits aside, these are two very compelling reasons to switch your usual vehicle choice.

Next up is Toronto's Urban Repair Squad. I'll give you a little hint about what they do:

No, no, no they're not Batman and Robin fighting evildoers on a submarine. Terrible acting, fight choreography and 1960s videorecording technology aside, the important thing to focus in on are the Pows and the Swooshes. Still confused? Take a look at what the Urban Repair Squad is doing to potholes in Toronto:

Tagging the urban obstacles in this way is not only a creative means for alerting other cyclists of the perils that lie along the path ahead, but also of expressing discontent with the current road conditions and hopefully generating enough of a following to influence legislators to do something about it. In many ways I think Providence needs its own pothole-tagging squad, but perhaps that would make the streets too colorful...

(For a full portfolio of the Urban Repair Squad pics, a collection dubbed Pothole Onomatopoeia, click here.)

And finally, for all of you Mario Kart lovers out there check out this modified bike lane in Portland, Oregon:

How great would you feel on your ride home from work if you hit a speed boost or were invincible for a few blocks? Sure trying to avoid a banana might make that Monday morning commute that much more difficult, but I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons here. Just don't go thinking that mushroom means you can play chicken with the car in the opposite lane...

I don't have much else to say other than I think each of these examples shows how a little creativity can go a long way to promoting good behaviors and healthy lifestyles.

(To the powers that be, 1. Thank you for reading this, I'm flattered, and 2. This post is not meant to encourage vandalism of personal property.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lock it Up

In June, after getting by without a bike at school for almost two years, I purchased the above beauty from a local mechanic up in Woonsocket, RI. Affectionately dubbed Big Red, this bike has revolutionized my life off-campus (I can't walk to campus from my house and back anymore because it feels like I'm wading through molasses in comparison).

Living in a quasi-urban area, though, I have been very aware of the risk of theft in my neighborhood. One of my buddy's bike's was swiped from his backyard just around the corner from my house. One of the subletters living in my house this summer had his bike lifted from the side of our house one night in July. A bike is not only an investment, it's also an expression of personal pride, so it hurts more than just your wallet when it disappears.

Though I've never had my own bike (or pieces of it) stolen, I can sympathize with those who have. The fall semester of my sophomore year I emerged from my residence hall and hooked around the corner of the building to where I had locked my bike to the first-floor window grate (a product of not having enough bike racks on campus, at least near my dorm). To my dismay I found my bike in ruins - the rear wheel was completely bent and the frame was distorted and buckled. What I had initially thought was the product of drunken vandalism, I soon learned was caused by something far more unusual. The next morning I noticed a pink note from Facilities Management attached to the handlebars which read something along the lines of: "Hit your bike while mowing the Main Green. Contact so-and-so for more information." Yes my bike had been run over by a lawn mower and was damaged beyond repair.

So quirky accidents aside, how can you protect your bicycle? A lock is surely a start, but how you lock your bike can be just as important as locking it in the first place. Streetfilms and longtime NYC bike mechanic Hal Ruzal produced a series of tutorial videos in which he grades the locking jobs of bicycles left on the street. I've included the last of three below.

Hal is quite the character:

Bicycle thievery, like any form of crime, somewhat depends on where you live. I don't think you'd need the same level of bike security in Providence as Hal prescribes for NYC, but proper bike-locking etiquette can't hurt, right? On the other side of the locking spectrum, when I visited my brother Asa at the Aspen Music Festival this summer in Colorado, there were bikes left downtown completely unlocked and unattended. Asa would also routinely "borrow" other students' bikes from the music school campus if he had left his in town. The key may be knowing your local bike thievery patterns and planning accordingly, or even using a little more security than you think you need to thwart that extra ambitious bike-jacker that comes along every now and then.

One of the most interesting points I think Hal makes is in his first tutorial (if you're interested, watch it here). He says, "Locking your bicycle, a lot of times you are just buying time, and that's important. If you put enough locks on your bike, where even if they're not the most secure locks, it just takes a thief too long and he'll give up and go on to the next bike." Anyone can cut through a lock with the proper equipment. It's just a matter of how long they feel comfortable sitting out in the open with a pair of bolt cutters or a small handheld saw. More (better quality) locks = more time = less likely to be stolen. Because of this, it's always a good idea to keep your bike inside overnight if possible, and avoid leaving your bike always locked in the same location where someone can scope out their grand theft velo.

So if you're concerned for the safety of your favorite bicycle, and if you take nothing else away from this post, remember these three important words...

Happy riding!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Innovation for Today, Innovation for Tomorrow

Nissan has recently come out with a series of TV commercials to promote their new line of automobiles. They are varied in their approach, but all of them rally around a common theme of innovation. Let's take this one for example:

Sure, it's chock full of technological improvements that really have no bearing on the environment (this is a car commercial after all), but there are a few nuggets of value to focus in on. The first is the seats being made from recycled water bottles. Though we don't know what percent of the material is post-consumer plastic, the idea of extending the life-cycle of the water bottles is certainly unusual for a car company. The second portion of interest is obviously the line, "[Wouldn't it be cool] if you never bought another gallon of gas?" coupled with the amazing time-lapse of the pump disappearing. This is the true innovation, a groundbreaking change to something we often take for granted (more so than the addition of a step on your Xterra that you can use to hoist your mountain bike on the roof). Can you imagine a world without gasoline?

On the topic of groundbreaking, let's move on to this next 30 second spot:

Narrated by Lance Armstrong, this commercial stresses the significance of a certain technological improvement in the Leaf - it has no tailpipe (and thus, no GHG emissions). Finally after it's 100+ year existence, the automobile (or at least this one) has given up a former staple of it's design, allowing not only Lance to breathe easier but the planet to as well. Again, this is innovation at its finest - Nissan has done away with this technological convention and improved the environmental health outcomes in the process.

Finally let's take a look at this commercial (I've saved what I think is the best one for last):

Simple. Moving. Poetic even. I'll be honest, though I'm not usually one to buy into the whole "environmentalism for polar bears' sake" argument, this clip was powerful in a way I don't know that I can adequately articulate. For me the embrace at the end of the long and laborious journey from arctic to suburbia signifies a solution to one of the most symbolic crises of a changing climate, and in doing so a solution to climate change itself. The embrace is also charged with a mixture of gratitude, relief, and forgiveness that I think most of us are searching for in our own personal pursuits for a cleaner, healthier, and happier planet.

One final point: Yes, Nissan still sells cars that consume gasoline and pollute the earth (and will likely do so for the foreseeable future), but progress is progress and any little step in the right direction counts for something.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bill McKibben on Letterman

Last week environmental activist Bill McKibben appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to discuss everything from the science of climate change and the obstructive power of the oil, coal, and gas lobbies, to China's rapid economic expansion and our political logjams in the United States, to the genesis of 350.org and the upcoming 10/10/10 Global Work Party.


After the clip cuts out, there are another 30 seconds or so of dialogue, continued below.

Letterman: "But is what you're talking about adaptability really rather than correcting any of this?

McKibben: "You can adapt, maybe, to one or two degrees. You can't adapt to four or five degrees, so we've got to do both."

Letterman: "Special hats. Have you thought about special hats?"

McKibben: "There you go. Those'll help."

Letterman: "That's where my money is, ladies and gentlemen, special hats. Well Bill, thank you for just scaring the crap out of me."