Posts Tagged ‘Bicycling’

The America Cup-Inspired Transportation Revolution

My first encounter with the America Cup Competition and Village was in the summer of 2010. The Golden Gate Yachut Club had yet to win, but my summer studio professor was looking forward to the event. My school, Cal Poly, made an exception that year after a fellow classmate’s campaign for a summer studio, allowing my teacher James Doeflour to open a summer architecture class.

Jim set our class project to the America Cup Village, and my class logically took a class field trip to my home city, San Francusco. We first visited the Oracle HQ, then we visited the Golden Gate Yachut Club. Both time, my professor managed to contact someone from the company to introduce to us to their role in the competition. Finally, we visited our project site – China Basin. As the project and site studies continued, I was awed by how a competition could possibly change the entire planning of a city. My class team came up with a revised version of the China Basin masterplan, then we individually used a combination of Revit and Rhino to create a laser-cut sculptural model for the site. Eventually, we finished the final project of that class – a landmark building on the China Basin Pier.

Two years later, I have returned to San Francisco, and the transformation brought by the America Cup is now going full force. The energy is high, and I see the name everywhere. Of course, my information network tends to gear toward the city planning aspect, what with my engagement in the sustainability community and being a Bicycle Coalition intern. As a result, yesterday I met with a group of professionals at a networking session, and is it any wonder how the conversation turned toward AIA when I am an architectural professional and another member in the session is a Sustainability Coordinator? Anyhow, I learned from her that AIA is hosting a presentation about the America Cup!

Thanks to my internship, I learned quite a bit about the role of bicycle in the America Cup, but a view from the AIA point? I was surprised (though I shouldn’t be, now that I think about it) that people are already gearing up to purchase or renovate their buildings to accommodate the crowd that America Cup will bring. Several of the visitors will actually be staying in the city for a few months because of their company business – instead of just the few days that the competition will be held. The competition site, along with the changing architecture and cityscape, goes from the Fisherman’s Wharf to as far as the China Basin, wrapping itself across the west side of the city. The presenter noted that on a architecture level, the ones most influenced would be the Hotel business, in addition to the retail business that the Competition will bring.

The information that excited me most included:

  1. New Muni line and Bikeshare!
  2. This year America Cup has aimed to be the most sustainable Village so far, placing priority on zero waste, bay health, and ocean health.

For number one: While I already own a bike, bikeshare means more people bicycling. How many times have I heard “Safety in Number” when it comes to bicycling? Besides, while I love biking, going all the way from Bayview to Downtown and then back… takes just too much energy for me to do anything else – what’s the point of riding to downtown if I tired myself out first? I would much rather take the T-Muni downtown, then rent a bike there. And Muni line? How can not be happy about more of it? The change in transportation system in 2013 will directly and indirectly change the cityscape, as evident now by the People Plan approved by SFMTA Board Directors (which will affect the bike and bus system around the Waterfront), not to mention the re-pavement in 2015 (AKA, The Better Market Street). I laughed when the presenter say that the message is Do Not Drive to North Bay. When it comes to San Francisco, driving is not really the best option no matter what time of the year. The America Cup will certainly test the transportation system in this jam-pack city.

For number two: Considering that America Cup will cover a significant region of San Francisco, its goal to be sustainable will be a strong influence to the city design and business, and will probably inspire relevant industries (transportation, city planning, real estate, public art, advertising, … architecture) to match the same theme in their design and work. I recall that my class team paid a good amount of focus on the open space aspect of the masterplan redesign in our project, and on how to incorporate greenscape and transportation system.

I am strangely looking forward to watching the race despite my lack of yacht knowledge, and I certainly look forward to how the Competition will redesign the city itself. San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has been doing City Rides to introduce people to the current proposals. Sadly, my schedule has been conflicting every ride. The next one is coming up on May 26, which will introduce the North part of the Bay Trail, but the date conflicts with Homestead Skillshare Festival, which I will be attending and volunteering (The festival itself will have workshops on water catchment, place-making, cohousing, urban gardening, disaster preparation, community work, activist communication skills… and Solar Ovens?). Fortunately, SFBC is doing one last bike ride – introducing the South bike trail – in June, and I have every plan to attend.

Until then, Ciao!

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Architecture and the History of a Neighborhood

“Um… You know, the theater thingie. The one that looks like it will collapse. Look, just keep looking to the right of the bus window and you wouldn’t miss it. Its yellow and has a giant theater banner sticking out. I will meet you there?”

Why do certain building stand out in people’s mind? How well do you know the history of your neighborhood? I like to think that I know a bit more than most people, since I do have a fascination for architecture history. But there are so many neighborhood in San Francisco, and they all have such rich history. With my family’s tendency to move from one house to another, I ends up knowing a little about everything, but not an expert on any. Still, I know very early on that each neighborhood has something distinguish, something that people use to direct and navigate, some sort of structure that – whether loved or hated – is the landmark of that place.

A few weeks ago, I returned to the cultural hub of Richmond, which I once frequented when I live in the Sunset District as an high school student. A few buildings is always memorable, even though they are not exactly the symbol of architectural beauty and tend to be a bit rundown. As a young student, I didn’t really understand why it left such a mental mark. In fact, I didn’t even realized they had became a landmark in my mind until I attended the Rec Ride on Reid Brothers Architects in February. San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has started to host several bike ride again as the sun came back (well, not now. It’s pouring this weeks). They even had a class on how to host a bike ride for its member. The Reid Brothers ride is one of the old classics, hosted by the Coalition’s very own program director.

The building described at the start of this post is the Alexandria Theater. It’s been there forever in my memory. I always did wonder if anyone actually use it. It’s the third building we saw, so let me jump back to the beginning.

First, we gathered at the Velo Rouge Cafe. It is a good place for bicyclist, as not only do they have a lot of bike racks, they give 10% discount to SF Bicycle Coalition member. They have a pretty good street corner there for gathering, and by the time I got there, a huge crowd had gathered. My jaws dropped at the number – How the heck are we going to do a ride with this big number of people!?

But the Coalition managed. Before the ride start, we were given some papers with information on which building we were going and news articles on some of the buildings.  There were a few Coalition veteran members, whom later stayed at the end of the line to make sure no one get lost. I ran out of steam later, so that system really helped me in the end. Turned out I was not adjusting well to the weird system of gears of my newly-brought bike, and one of the veteran members kindly helped me figure it out.

The tour leader was Andy Thornley, and he started by telling us about how he got interested in Reid Brothers even though he didn’t know much about architecture at first. It is quite hilarious how he just kept coming across the Reid Brothers’ architecture. I would write more about his story, but I found out he wrote an article that does a better job than I can, so I will just direct you to it.

The buildings we viewed are: Marshall Hale House, Coliseum Theater, Alexandria Theater, Balboa Theater, Caretaker’s Cottage beside the Murphy windmill, Polo Field Stadium (incomplete), Cliff House, and Spreckels Temple of Music between Deyoung and Academy of Science.

I recently finally started my Flickr account, so I will direct you there:

The truth is, I never heard about the Reid Brothers before this tour. Yet, I remember them quite clearly. If someone shows a Reid building photo to me, I can point out exactly where they are even before this ride. Yet strangely, I never thought about who designed it. It is not like the Federal Building or the De Young. They didn’t have a modern giant architect, or some sort of revolutionary design. In fact, according to Andy, Reid Brothers build whatever their client commissioned – Egyptian, Greek, Classical, etc. For those who are Ayn Rand fans or modern purist, their methods are probably nightmare come true. And in the modern era of consumption culture, something so aged tends to get ignored as old and outdated. Its like what I wrote in the beginning of this post – it is going to be commented as “that old thingie that looks like it will collapse” and not “that beautiful glass structure”. Yet as I listened to Andy, the brothers really reflected the San Francisco culture and politics of the time. They were in the middle of that struggle, of that time when the city is redeveloping and recovering from the Earthquake. Why had they played such a big role?

I think the willingness to build any style is part of their professionalism, and their charm to navigate between different client needs are their strength. Client’s need and style are only part of architecture. Style can be interpreted so many ways, and its not like the Reid Brothers just rebuild the ancient Egyptian pyramid and temples. No,  the building contains modern content and modern structure. In addition, architecture is not just visual or stand alone. They have technical, historical, cultural, and functional factors. Will the building be able to convert to other usage? How strong is it? Does it blend into its neighborhood? Does it works with its initial usage? What is its role in the community?

One thing Andy mentioned is that Reid Brothers’ architecture are often reuse for other purposes. That is the thing: their buildings are stylized with historical elements and scales that makes it stands out a bit more than the surrounding neighborhood, just something that says “No, I am not just a house.”, but simple and mellow enough that it doesn’t scream “I am the famous theater by xyz.” Its easy to remember them, and its easy to recognize that its from the Richmond district. It didn’t popped out, but it will last. It is not going to be the building that people dream about going or living in, but it stands out in the mind as some place special.

Well, that’s the reflection of my ride that day. Its amazing how architecture can be learn everywhere. I like how Andy learned so much about the Reid Brothers though a series of coincidence. But then, there is the famous Japanese saying that ” Nothing is coincidence in the world; There is only Hitsuzen (destiny, fate)”. I have been bumping into David Baker’s building and Salesforce news constantly for the last few months. Maybe I should do some research on that myself!

Happily Biking the Weekend Away: P2 – Sunday Street

In the chaos of trying to find a bicycle of the right-fit, by the time I brought my bike and got myself equipped with locks, helmet, and gloves, there was only one Sunday Street left to happen in 2011.

For those who were wondering, my bicycle requirements were: fit 4′-10″ female, geared, somewhat light, preferably with road slicks already, and the hardest part – under $100 but not stolen. Yep, I told you it was chaotic. Actually, most people would say that it is almost impossible. But once again, my perseverance and determination rules over the impossible – that’s a different story for another time.

Let’s fast forward to October 23. The last Sunday Street of the year, held at Mission.

For those who don’t know what’s Sunday Street, it is basically a car-free events that celebrates the local communities and neighborhood. The official website of Sunday Street describes it as such:

Sunday Streets is a series of events put on by the City of San Francisco to encourage health, community and fun, inspired by similar events in cities throughout the world.  A Sunday Streets event creates a large, temporary, public space by closing off stretches of a neighborhood’s streets to automobile traffic, and opening them to pedestrians, bicyclists, and activities for several hours on a predetermined Sunday.

As a morning volunteer, I arrived before Sunday Street start, but there were numerous people there already – residents, store owners, booth owners, volunteers, even police officers. I know that Sunday Street is a big event, but I didn’t realize how big. When I looked at the map earlier, I thought it was going to 10 street block or so straight down Valencia.

Wrong.

Actually, it was 11 long blocks down Valencia starting from 13th street, then the event made a L turn at 24th street into another 13 short blocks.

TWENTY- FOUR Blocks!

No wonder they needed so many volunteers, and no wonder they needed the volunteers to wear orange shirts (so they could be seen among the massive crowd with people dressed in all different color and fashion – most memorably, there were a duo of pink bicyclists with a soap bubble gadget attached to the back of their bike. Predictably, several children trailed after them. I almost did the same thing except I remembered I was volunteering).Without bicycles or some sort of wheeled device, I am not sure most people would go through the whole festival. But then, this was a bicycle-focused event, so I guess it made sense. The city and the various organization for this event must spent hours making everything work though. I volunteered as the Intersection Monitor on just one crosswalk, but even that became very eventful.

The crosswalk I was very monitored by me, one other Intersection Monitor, and two uniformed patrol. The job of us monitors was to keep an eye on the pedestrian and bicyclist (or tricyclist, roller-skater, skateboarder, etc), and the patrols’ was to deal with the drivers. Basically, we are similar to those nice ladies holding the stop sign near school (we got our own stop sign too!), except we were not trying to stop cars- we were trying stop any non-automobile individual from running the red light by accident.

Wait a minute, isn’t Sunday Street closed off to traffic?

Not completely. Some of the main crosswalk allow the traffic to cross Valencia (It is 24 blocks in total. Imagine drivers trying to go around that). The problem was that since the event is generally close off to traffic, people forgot to look at the red light after they legally ran over several red light in the past “closed-off” areas. So yes, time to grab a red stop sign, orange shirt, and yellow vest.

The event participants were very friendly toward us; the hardest part of the job goes to the patrols – dealing with the confused and/or angry drivers. Even with the opened crosswalk, the traffic still got jammed. There were also local residents who didn’t realize the event was today. The organizer did reach out through the local communities and tried to let everyone know what’s on though. Overall, while prior notification and routing traffic flow is very important for large events, they are also very difficult elements to control.

A lot of people did know about the event though. In addition to the pink/soap-bubble bicyclists, I saw a bicycle that shaped like a boat, a large group of cute little bicyclist-tricyclist, bicyclist with dogs, a bicycle playing music with boombox, a bicycle completely covered in campaign sign… the list goes on.

But as exciting as it was, by the end of my shift, I was completely worn out from just standing there under the blazing sun. Thankfully, someone came to replace me, but I really gained a new appreciation for the police patrols by the end of the day (They were going to stay the whole day!).

As a volunteer, I enjoyed a free delicious Falafel sandwich and sweet potato chips from Liba. When I first got the food ticket, I thought it was a local restaurant. To my surprise, while it is a restaurant, it’s actually a mobile restaurant! Alright. It wasn’t the first time I seen a mobile food truck, but this one caught attention. The truck was almost completely in green with a elegant, floral curve design. It looked very sharp and clean. When I went up to order food, they even got my order down with a iPad.

Bless the modern-tech age.

Modern style of food, truck, and ordering method – I found it to be a very complete design. Tasty, too!

I continued into the festival. Since I was on my bicycle most of the time, I ended up just enjoying the ride and not really taking any pictures. I did stopped for this really cool hockey match on bicycles:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go!!!

There were a lot of booths, but I think the local stores caught my attention the most. I definitely visited the bicycle stores, but sadly none of the accessories I wanted was on sale. Every place was packed, so I had to get off my bicycle at some points, but there were so many things to see, I was stopping a lot anyway. After bicycling for a hour or so, I finally started heading home.

On my way to BART, I was interested by the fact that people – what appeared to be locals – biked on Mission Street’s sidewalk as well. I decided to give it a try. The sidewalk was generally wide enough, but it was definitely very rocky. Adding the pedestrians and the occasional food stands, I had to bike very slow and careful. It wasn’t difficult to get to the BART stop though. Other than getting my bicycle wheel stuck in the elevator at one point (note to self: do not attempt to fit bike in elevator 90 degree, even if your bike’s very tiny. ) and missing a bus ride because its bicycle racks were full (Sunday Street domino effect?) , I got home safe and happy. I even met another bicyclist at the bus stop that I thought came from Sunday Street (actually, she was just visiting friends), whom I ended up befriending after I helped her with local bicycle direction.

Happily Biking the Weekend Away: P1 – Reclaim Market

The week of October 22 to 23 had been one of the most eventful weeks I had – I was there for both the “Reclaim Market Street! Street Intervention” bike tour and Sunday Streets.

Reclaim Market Street! Street Intervention

Here’s a description on SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association): “An inspired bike ride down Market Street with Rebar, the San Francisco Bike Coalition and the San Francisco Great Streets Project.

Bicycling from urbanist’s view, combining two of my favorite topics? Nope, definitely not missing it!

The group met at the Harry Bridges Plaza at Ferry Building. All sorts of people were there – tourists, bike advocates, bike shop owners, city officials, college students, children, and parents. Two of the children fell in love with my ladybug bell – I know it would come into some unconventionally fun use at some point! I chatted with the people around me as I waited at the plaza with the sound of my bell ringing every few minutes. As time approaches, more and more people come, and it ended up to be quite a crowd:

I chuckled when I looked around and realized what a sight we would make on the road. I wished I had a video camera attached to my helmet.

(Before anyone gets confuse, the light wasn’t that low. The camera was on the wrong setting – same problem for the next two photos.)

No video-cam for me, but those leading the tour have two very unique devices – gadgets that would color the wheel with paint, which would then leave trails as the wheel glides across the floor.

The paint was, of course, water-soluble (or else the City, who supported this event, would have a big headache on its hand. While I love pink, I am not sure the street cleaners would love it as much if it is not soluble). The paint wasn’t as smooth and noticeable as expected though, but it was fun to watch up close.

While I known downtown have railroad tracks, it wasn’t until I biked on Market that I realize their presents. Needless to say, I carefully stayed to the right while I watched with admiration of those who could shift left and right on the parallel railroad tracks. I known it can be done if the wheels are angled correctly, but generally, I would rather not risk it. As a city-bicycle newbie, I shall stay on the right side of the tracks until I am ready. (Falling on a railroad track in a quiet, college town is very different from falling in a busy, city downtown.)

Yes! Graffiti fun! Loved, loved by the kid participants. And adult too, of course:

How else could one get more involve – other than actually constructing – than by drawing road paths with our very own hand?

Whoever set up the coffeeholic bicyclist image there is a genius. Of course, I would be bias – if my love of coffee isn’t already widespread among my friends, I would have used it as my avatar.

We got to try out the new paths ourselves.

Ready, set, go!

I wonder if it feels like flying for the kids?

At this feature talk, officials from Municipal Transportation Agency talked about what the city have been working on, its plans, and even passed out some street plans. Changing the Market meant that the designers had to combine what was learned from failed and successful cases from both US and Europe and blend it with the culture of San Francisco. It would take time to do so, and I look forward to see how Market will change.

Our second stop is about a block or two before Powell station:

We were right on the road. The red shirts people were the volunteers and guides, who had placed the cones and made sure the path was clear.

Our second stop ended up being quite eventful. In the middle of our spraying, we heard the sounds of ambulances in the distance. Before we known it, the ambulances were here, and they needed to get through – and our cones are at the corner they needed to enter.

Oops.

Those at the corner rushed to move the cones away. Those of us at the middle of the block rushed to move the kids back into the street. Then, right around the time when our second feature talks ends, the Occupy Wallstreet protester caught up to us.

Double oops.

They were about one street away. We could hear their voices growing louder. Considering we just heard a feature talk regarding Critical Mass and the revolutionary history set by bicyclists, it was ironically fitting to the topic. But amusing as it was, we don’t want to get stuck in pedestrian traffic.

Confusion, confusion. What should we do? The guides were at the corner of the block, some of us were at the middle of the block.

Communication distance. Instant decision needed.

Eventually, several of us started riding down slowly. We did left in time, but I wonder how many people thought we were Occupy Wallstreet people opening the road with our bicycle. It was a fun topics as the rest of us rides toward our last feature talk site.

At that point, I was at the heart of Market. As I was bicycling through, I couldn’t help but be awe by how beautiful it was to ride a bicycle through Market. It was like one of those movie opening where the camera captures the flowing images of historical buildings and autumn leaves as the main character enters a new town. Better yet, I could hear the voices and feel the air. I sat in cars and bus through Market before, but the feeling couldn’t be compare to riding on a bicycle. I felt somewhat sad that this was really only possible if I am on a bike tour, since Market is a pretty busy and chaotic street that generally requires a bicyclist’s full attention on traffic.

Before I known it, we stopped at our final talk site – the newly opened repair kiosk by Huckleberry Bicycles. Their main store, right next to the kiosk, was in construction. But the kiosk has opened, ready to provide free repair assistance to the commuters. Those who needed some repair help got to try their service out right there on site:

The kiosk was definitely well-prepared.

Not until then did I realized that there wasn’t much bike service near Powell of Market. Now if there is a bicycle shop in 3rd street as well, I will be very happy. And a coffee house with wifi and visible bike racks, of course.

The ride ended at the plaza near Civil Center, where we finally proceed to the juice blender.

Da Da! The Juicecycle! Insert music here.

Yes, a bicycled-powered juice blender provided by Rebar. It was fun to watch as 3 people pedaled away to power a single juice blender. It made one re-appreciate the invention of electricity. Gathered quite a crowd as well – free apple juice and non-stopping, spinning pedals do tend to gather some attraction.

A line for the juice! Even dog and dog-walkers had came.

As the sun began to lower, I left for Bart so I can transfer to bus 44 later. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay long, since I couldn’t physically bike home from Civil Center, and I don’t want to be caught at 3rd street at night while walking – or even riding – a bike. So, early left for me, but the crowd of pedestrian and bicyclists gathered in the red-brick plaza remained as they chatted away.

Cup, Clouds, & Cycling Count: The Art of Street Analysis

Seems like I am on a roll with the “same alphabet” trend (C,C,C,C)…

Anyhow, yesterday I started off the day with a nice trip to the coffeehouse:

Cup

Drinking a cup of coffee in a cafe seems like a small everyday event. But yesterday I was reminded how each of our choices does matter in our environment.

It started out with a very small question. When I ordered my usual cup of coffee, the barista actually asked me if I want cup or glass. I assumed that he meant the nice white mugs, so I answered cup. Only did I realize that he meant paper cup. I saw him went to get what appears to be a paper cup, and I bemoans that I was too late to stop him. Coincidentally, they were out of dark roast, so the barista came back to ask if I want the light roast or wait. Being always patient for a good coffee, I decided to wait, but then I went onto asking if he used the paper cup. When he realized I got confused, he immidately offered to use the mug for me. I immidately jumped on it happily, but then I stop and asked if he already used the cup. He told me yes, I said I don’t want to waste, then he smile and answer that it’s ok and that they recycle, but then I told him it takes energy to recycle.

Faces of confusion went across the barista table. I palm-faced myself in realizing that I have got into my green-talk mode. After years of reading about sustainability, sometimes I can forget green talk can get confusing. It was rather embarrassing – which is not a big deal – but I can feel someone behind me in line and I can see that the other baristas were about to ask him what’s going on.  In the end, I ended up using the mug. The baristas in the store was very nice. One carry the mug over, and the original barista came over later to make sure everything’s ok and apologize for any confusion (Even though I am really the one that is confusing others).

All in all, lesson of the day – just ask for a mug. Be consistent of choices that are everyday matter that I know impacts the environment.

Clouds

After sipping my coffee, I started working on my business card. I got the front design done already, but after reading a bit on card-making, I realize I can customize the back as well. But I already got the key information in the front, what else should I put on such a tiny paper? I don’t want to crowd my card with images of my work, but I want to show my artistic side as well. I can list my skills, but how do I list it in a way that keeps a person’s interest? During one of my breaks, I was reading Social Networking For Career Success, and an idea jumped out to me – tag clouds. The books was mentioning how a person can use a tag-cloud program to input job post and see what keywords are repeating.

A thought then jumped into my mind – wouldn’t it be interesting for me to use tag-cloud for displaying my skill set? That way, my list of talent becomes a graphical art as well in very simple and clean method. In addition to showing my skills – by words and by graphics – it will also emphasis my most important skill. I really like the idea. Here is a early version: Pretty neat, huh?

Cycling Count

Have I mentioned that I am planning to volunteer many, many, fun events in SF yet? Right, I am. In fact, yesterday I was going to a volunteer training from San Francisco Bicycling Coalition for Street Analysis. At 5:15, I left for the Coalition just one street away. Interestingly, for the first few minutes , I was the only girl. Another girl joined in later, but all in all, the male ratio is definitely higher. Which is logical, most people who feel comfortable enough about bike commuting in San Francisco is male. In fact, I just read an article today on Sierra Club that the ratio of male-female bicyclist in the US is two to one. Europe, though, is the complete opposite. They actually have more female bicyclist than male bicyclist. In the end, it is more about the route system than anything else. I am glad I decided to look into SFBC, since many of their works does help improve the city’s system.

Counting bicyclists – even from a video recording – remind me of video games. For something that sounds so stastical, it is unbelieavably hilarious when everyone starts clicking the counters – feels a bit surreal in fact. (I half expect the screen to suddenly flash “Game Over! You lost!”)

I realize that I will be asking people to do a survey with me. Now that I think about it, of course street analysis would involve survey. But for some reason, I didn’t thought about it earlier. All’s well though. I will get some training to talking with absolute stranger – always a useful skill. And I am sure it will be fun to hear what everyone thinks. I don’t usually go to the area that I am assigned to, so I will to explore a new place as well!

Even before the actual analysis, I heard about some interesting information about how to conduct survey. For example, the importance of a systematic way of selecting who to ask – such as asking once every 3 person – so the result would be unbias. And of course, when you are walking around a city like San Francisco, you are bound to come across interesting people and responses.

It make me realize I really need to get my bicycle sometime. I have already been back in San Francisco for 2 weeks. Now, if someone will sell an used, step-through bicycle that a 4′-10″ person will ride comfortably in.