Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Intraday Biking

The things I carried.

The history of bicycling in the United States has been overwhelmingly recreational. (See Why Are European and American Bicycling So Different?) In recent years, though, bicyclists in Philadelphia and a number of other American cities have started to ride their bikes to work in considerable numbers - not the kind of numbers we see in the Netherlands or Denmark or Germany, but still noteworthy.

The thing that was missing was people going around town in between commuter hours. The Europeans use the term utilitarian bicycling, which can include commuting but also the little trips. Dropping kids off at school, or preschool. Going to the grocery store. Going to a meeting at someone else's office.

I'm primarily a recreational bicyclist myself, but I've also taken to riding Indego bikes to the Reading Terminal Market and to the Whole Foods on South Street. These are just far enough away from home that I don't always feel like walking.

Recently I've had the impression that there were more bikes on the streets of Philly in the middle of the day. I'm not sure they're all running errands like me. Some are in spandex and look like they may be out to Fairmount Park and beyond for a training ride. Others look like students and professors on their way to class. And others look like they may be commuting to jobs that start later than 9 a.m. - stores maybe, or restaurants.

Let's borrow a term from the stock market and call it intraday biking.

The Counts
As I said, I've had an impression. But what's that worth? So I decided to get some numbers.

My first stop was Rival Bros, the coffee shop at 24th and Lombard. I wanted to see what traffic was like at the deadest times. I made a leap of faith and picked 2:30-3:30 in the afternoon - after lunch, before the rush. This was on Wednesday, June 15.

It was pretty quiet. Westbound, in the bike lane on Lombard, there were 31 bikes in the hour (19 males, 12 females). Southbound on 24th there were 14 bicyclists (9 males, 4 females, one child riding with a grownup).

In all these counts I logged people as they exited the intersection. There was quite a bit of turning, and it would probably be nice to capture that information. Something for next time.

This was the quietest hour that I saw. On average, there was a bicyclist floating though the intersection every 80 seconds.

I went back to Rival on the morning of Friday, June 17. (You should try the Derringer, which I think is called a cortado elsewhere.) Between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. there were 65 bicyclists, or more than one a minute. Westbound there were 59 (38 males, 21 females). Southbound there were 6 (5 males, one female).

Next I went to Plenty, at 16th and Spruce. (I can't resist the chocolate croissants.) Between 9:20 and 10:20 a.m. on Monday, June 20, there were 152 bicyclists through the intersection, 116 males and 36 females, or approximately one every 25 seconds. Westbound, in the bike lane on Spruce, there were 93 (70 male, 23 female). Northbound on 16th there were 59 (46 male, 13 female).

On the afternoon of June 20, sitting in my sidewalk chair at Plenty, I saw 113 bicycles gliding through the intersection, or approximately one every 30 seconds. This count ran from 2:30 to 3:30. The weather was sunny, with a temperature of 93 degrees. Westbound there were 83 cyclists (61 male, 22 female). Northbound there were 30 (19 male, 11 female).

What the Numbers Mean
These numbers say a few things to me.

First, biking is an all-day phenom, at least in parts of Center City. I'm not sure people have noticed it yet. Bikes are small and quiet, and easy to miss if you're not looking for them.

Second, there was only one child. This is probably an unfair observation; the locations I picked are parts of major commuter routes where there won't necessarily be a lot of children. But still, there was only one child.

Third, only 29 percent of the riders were female.

Women and children are markers for perceived safety. What I was looking at, I think, are the "strong and fearless" and the "enthused and confident." Maybe 10 percent of the population. Half the population is what we call "interested but concerned." I don't think they've showed up yet.

They haven't showed up because they don't think it's safe. Want them to show up?  Build protected bike lanes. That's what they did in Europe, and it works.

Rival Bros, after the coffee is done.

See also Flex Posts on Pine and SpruceMore on the Pine and Spruce Bike LanesLooking and Not Seeing, Listening and Not Hearing.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Gordon Cullen and the Outdoor Floor

Oceans of asphalt: 2400 block of Cypress.
My friend Bill Marston loaned me a book called The Concise Townscape, by Gordon Cullen. We had been looking at some of the illustrations over coffee, and I had expressed an interest in reading the text.

I was intrigued by the thought that I might have read this book, or parts of it, more than forty years ago. I wasn't sure until page 82, when I ran across this phrase: "... today the tree is more usually accepted in its own right as a living organism which is pleased to dwell among us." Some things you never forget.

The book has quite a few well-turned aphorisms. Here's another, from page 46: "The typical town is not a pattern of streets but a sequence of spaces created by buildings."

It turns out that Gordon Cullen was quite influential in his day. Many young architects interested in urban design studied his book. I called up my brother and asked him if he recalled Gordon Cullen. The answer was an immediate yes, along with the news that he still has his copy of the book on a bookshelf in his apartment.

Think of Cullen as the English Jane Jacobs - their careers were contemporary, involved magazine journalism, and centered on the harm that automobiles were doing to cities.

Asphalt Is Boring
I was particularly taken with Cullen's thoughts on treatments for the street surface - what he calls "the floor." Here's what he has to say on page 53: "Buildings, rich in texture and color, stand on the floor. If the floor is a smooth and flat expanse of greyish tarmac then the buildings will remain separate because the floor fails to intrigue the eye in the same way that the buildings do."

He comes back to this idea on page 121: "Instead of walls and floor being in harmony, the floor linking or separating architectural elements and expressing the kind of space which exists between buildings, it is as though the buildings were models plonked down on a blackboard."

And here he is on page 128: "From the visual standpoint the greatest single loss suffered is neutralization of the floor, the space between buildings, which has changed from a connecting surface to a dividing surface. ...  Buildings are gathered together but they do not form towns; one might almost as well build houses facing across a railway line."

I recently posted a story on The Pavements of Asbury Park. I wonder if my interest in the visual effect of paving treatments stems from some long-forgotten passages in a dimly remembered book.

What an Illustrator!
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Cullen's illustrations, which manage to be both highly informative and utterly charming. They put me in mind of David Macaulay and his many books. I stumbled across this wonderful TED Talk that Macaulay did a while ago. I haven't found anything comparable for Cullen, so I thought I'd share. You can find some of Cullen's illustrations online, but I think the best way to see his work is to get your hands on the book.

I'm thinking a sidewalk would help.
See also A Tale of Three Alleys.