Utility bicycles are exploding in popularity
In an earlier post I suggested the utility bicycle shop as a sound business idea and a good way of lowering the barriers to cycling as transportation. As I’ve found out more about utility bike availability in North America, it struck me that most such shops had only recently opened. To see whether this was true, I searched out every North American bicycle store I could find that has a strong current focus on utility bicycles and bikes as transportation. The answer turns out to be a resounding yes. Below are the shops ordered by founding year.
Human Powered Machines* – Eugene, OR
Curbside Cycle* – Toronto, ON
Rapid Transit Cycleshop – Chicago, IL
Hudson Urban Bicycles – New York City, NY
Urbane Cyclist* – Toronto, ON
A.N.T. Bikes* – Holliston, MA
Dutch Bike Company* – Somerville, MA
North Park Bicycle Shop – Victoria, BC
Jorg & Olif* – Vancouver, BC (they have since moved to the UK)
Dutch Bike Co. – Seattle, WA
A Black Bike – New York City, NY
Rain City Bikes – Vancouver, BC
Clever Cycles – Portland, OR
Tip Top Bike Shop – Oakland, CA
Bowery Lane Bicycles* – New York City, NY
Flying Pigeon LA – Los Angeles, CA
Renaissance Bicycles – online
Madsen Cycles* – online
Downtown Bike Hounds – Hamilton, ON
Metrofiets* – Portland, OR
Dutch Bike Co. – Chicago, IL
Joe Bike* – Portland, OR
Commuter Bike Store – online (the year is my guess)
Violet Crown Cycles* – Austin, TX
My Dutch Bike – San Francisco, CA
Wheel House Bikes – Santa Barbara, CA
Copenhagen Cyclery – Chicago, IL
J.C. Lind Bike Co. – Chicago, IL (formerly De Fietsfabriek USA)
Arriving by Bike – Eugene, OR
Beater Bikes* – Toronto, ON
2010 (up to May / the date of this post):
Republic Bike/Urban Outfitters* – online (founded in 2009, Dutch-style bikes added in 2010)
Bike Bike – Calgary, AB
Portland Velocipede – Portland, ME
Fort Langley Cyclery – Fort Langley, BC
Adeline Adeline – New York City, NY
Cycle Butik – Toronto, ON
Public Bikes* – San Francisco, CA
2010 (June or later):
Rolling Orange Bikes – Brooklyn, NY
icargobike – San Clemente, CA
Shops marked with a * build, design, or special-order their bikes. (Curbside gets a star for starting a major distribution company and helping design the Batavus Fryslan and Breukelen.) I think the number of shops doing their own thing is partially a consequence of major North American bike companies long ago abandoning utility bicycles. That said, in addition to the growing number of imported brands, some smaller North American bike companies do now focus on city bikes and utility: Electra (founded in 1993), Xtracycle (1998), Breezer (2002), Yuba (2006), Civia (2007), Madsen (2008), and Linus (2009). For that matter, new European manufacturers of city bikes have also been setting up shop, including Azor (1998), Retrovelo (2003), WorkCycles (2003), De Fietsfabriek (2003), and Velorbis (2005). Interestingly, both WorkCycles and De Fietsfabriek were started in Amsterdam by Americans.
Utility bicycles really are exploding in popularity, despite (or maybe thanks to) the recession. And it’s not just the bikes, but also the inviting “slow bicycling” that goes along with them, the ever-more-frequent calls for dedicated cycling infrastructure and buffered bike paths, and the rapid spread of bike-sharing schemes (which of course use utility bicycles). So expect to see more city bikes coming to your town. And if you want to see them sooner, now’s the time to open up a bike shop and get more regular people riding (and demanding cycling infrastructure).
Waterloo Region LRT as a tipping point for transit
On June 24, Waterloo Regional Council nearly unanimously endorsed the plan for light rail between Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge. Pending firm commitments from provincial and federal governments, the first stage will consist of light rail between Waterloo and Kitchener and temporary adapted bus rapid transit between Kitchener and Cambridge.
The case for LRT in the region is solid, but it is of course unusual for North America to date in how proactive it is. the transport politic wrote about the plan, saying we would be the “smallest in North America to build a modern electric light rail system.” Hamilton — the city with a bus system called the “Hamilton Street Railway” — is now working on a plan for rapid transit as well, with a strong citizens’ push for light rail. GO Transit is slated to bring commuter buses to Kitchener in a few months, and trains to Guelph and Kitchener by 2011. The City of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo are pushing for extending GO trains to Cambridge via Milton.
Most interestingly, in light of the LRT plans here and under the same provincial pressure to grow up and not out, the even smaller city of Guelph is now going to consider light rail in a review of its transit system.
I think as it progresses into the procurement and construction stages, the Region of Waterloo light rail plan will serve to tip transit in Southwestern Ontario to something more serious and more usable. Currently, public transit infrastructure is assumed to be something for large cities (at least in North America), and our plans will show otherwise.
First will be Cambridge, which will be increasingly clamoring for its light rail extension. Other cities and areas — Hamilton, Guelph, London, Brantford — will consider light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT), and people there will know that LRT is a serious option, and that BRT is a pale imitation. Cambridge and Guelph will get some kind of rail link along an existing right-of-way. GO Transit will perhaps provide the missing link between Kitchener/Cambridge and Hamilton. And once the LRT is in place in Waterloo Region (if not before then), we will certainly start exploring additional transit infrastructure, such as to St. Jacobs and Elmira and along cross-corridors.
People in Southwestern Ontario will realize that true, useful, and pleasant transit is possible, and will stop being satisfied with token bus service and congested roads. And the Region of Waterloo will lead the way.
On the tipping point of buses
No, we’re not going to go around tipping over buses. Though it would make a great urban legend to counter that rural legend of cow tipping.
There are plenty of bus routes in Kitchener-Waterloo — and in most cities that are not New York, I would imagine — that run every half-hour or less frequently. On the other hand, the “mainline” 7 buses run every 7-8 minutes along their common spine. I claim that the difference between a 30 minute and a 8 minute headway is not just in quantity, but also in quality. This might be obvious.
The difference is in how one may use such routes. For 30-minute buses, on average you’ll wait 15 minutes; but sometimes you have bad luck and the bus is running late, so a worst case is something like 40 minutes. These are 40 minutes that you could have used to walk to your destination. Which is pretty bad, so you get yourself a bus schedule and plan your time around the bus stop time. If you don’t get there sufficiently ahead of time, you still run the risk of the bus arriving early and screwing you over. The obvious way out is to avoid all this hassle with some other means of getting from point A to point B, such as driving.
Why is an 8-minute headway different? The answer should be clear: if you need to take the bus, you go to the bus stop and wait. On average, that’s a 4 minute wait. Worst case, 8 minutes, which is manageable. You don’t need the bus schedule! If you know where the bus goes, then you can just go to a stop and expect the bus to ferry you to your destination. It’s easy, requires no access to schedules or the Internet, and especially requires no advance planning. (With a short headway, the schedule might actually give you a false confidence due to inherent variability in the route.)
The bus headway tipping point is probably somewhere in between 5 and 30 minutes, and is some kind of average of individual patience curves. Around that tipping point, more buses will lead to disproportionately more riders and a more user-friendly bus route. The greater point is that there is a serious qualitative difference between low- and high-frequency service, and this deserves more prominence in discussion of transit.