The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 2: The Trip

In Part 1 of this blog post series I described the context of my journey to NYC last September. I made the trip to demonstrate the feasibility of long distance travel by electric bike, and the People’s Climate March provided the perfect opportunity. This second part describes some details of the trip itself, then indulges in a vision of the future of long-distance biking.

One of the first mistakes I made was trusting Google maps to come up with a good route. In the past I’ve used the “bike button” on Google maps to show me bike trails along my route. For example, on a trip to Washington D.C. I was able to travel two-thirds of the 350-mile trip on scenic bike trails (in particular the C&O canal). Google recommended traveling south through Pennsylvania and then east through New Jersey, and promised a few rails-to-trails along the way. It looked good on the map! What happened in reality is that Continue reading The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 2: The Trip

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 1: The Context

Author Laurence Clarkberg sets out from Ithaca to New York City, a 230-mile trip.

The question of the century is “How can we make vehicles that use less energy than our automobiles but have the same functionality?” Electric cars are a step in the right direction–they use about a tenth of the energy of gasoline-powered cars. However, the technology exists to go even further: electric bikes use about one one-hundredth the energy of gasoline-powered cars. But do ebikes have the same functionality as a car? For example consider long distance travel, meaning travel on the order of hundreds of miles. Can an ebike do that? Of course not, right? Last month I made a long distance trip on an electric bike in order to answer that question and discovered that the answer is Continue reading The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 1: The Context

Distribution and Beyond

We are currently in the distribution phase. I’m using a simple spreadsheet to list out my major distributors (who are often the funders), along with how many maps they are getting. A simple formula then calculates how many maps are in the remainder pool that may be available for other purposes. Even before the maps are back from the presses, the maps are in demand. Earlham College wants at least 1,000 copies, and Richmond High School has asked to have a copy for each student (over 1,600). I expect the first printing of 5,000 will find it way to prospective cyclists fairly easily. I’ll update this section once I have more experiences to share.

Copenhagen Rush Hour

The city would like to put of official signs along the official route, but doesn’t believe they can be afforded right now. To help them with the signs when the funds are ready, I provided links to very specific references about what the standards for official bike route signs are.

Note that if any of the routes recommended were “state roads” then the state must become involved to get new signs put up along these roads. For our project, it was convenient to avoid them– they were the busy roads we were providing alternatives to!

At this point I hope to grow Bike Richmond to foster other leaders in the organization. Together we will guide our efforts based our collective interest. Events? Education? Bike Lanes? Join Bike Richmond if you’d like to play a part.

We as citizens can own our communities and change them. Education and experience are perhaps the best ways to make cycling safer, and providing bicycling education and experience has to be neither costly or complicated. If you want to improve bicycling in your community, you can.

Thank Yous

Critical Mass, Richmond, Indiana, August 2007

With the maps back from the printer, it’s important to remember to send “Thank
Yous” to donors as well as mailing sample maps to everyone who contributed,
such as the organizations that granted me permission to re-use some text or
photo in the document.

My “Thank you list” includes the following the organizations:

  • Cope Environmental Center
  • Cycling and Fitness Warehouse
  • Earlham College
  • Earlham Bike Co-op
  • Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County
  • Ike’s Bicycle Shop
  • National Road Heritage Trail
  • Summersault
  • Reid Hospital and Health Care Services
  • Richmond High School
  • Richmond/Wayne County GIS
  • Rose View Transit
  • Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau
  • Wayne County Foundation
  • Wayne County Surveyor’s Office
  • The City of Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • The City of Richmond, Indiana
  • The City of Bloomington, Indiana
  • The City of Calgary, Canada
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources
  • Indiana Department of Transportation
  • Indiana Bicycle Coalition
  • WayNet, Inc
  • Kalkomey Enterprises, Inc

Plus many more individuals not affiliated with one of the above organizations who provided valuable feedback or assistance:

  • Anna Lisa Gross
  • Barry Cramer
  • Jim and Vicki Hair
  • John Weber
  • Steve Melamed
  • Hopi Stosberg

Plus some others I’m forgetting, I’m sure. Thanks!

Financial Logistics of being a Lightweight Bike Organization

Flower Child

While I enjoyed the informality of, this meant there was no legal entity that checks could be addressed to, and we did not directly qualify for one mini-grant from the Wayne County Foundation that we could receive if we were a formal non-profit or a government organization.

I shopped around for organizations or city departments that could be a “fiscal sponsor”– someone who would receive checks from supporters and write the check to the printer, but won’t necessarily provide any funds on their own. Such a sponsor organization would also allow us be the recipient of some kinds of grants.

A contact within the city advised me that trying to use a city department for even this expense-free task could add more red tape than it was worth. So, although I would like the map to be a public project of the city, eventually, I continued to work outside the city for now.

Eventually, our local Cope Environmental Center agreed to be an organization sponsor for the project. I was up front them that I expected this to be a short-term arrangement. If Bike Richmond continues to have a financial life, it makes sense to becoming a formal legal entity.

Fundraising for a bike map

The Girls
Now that I had a map and I knew how much it would cost to print, I had to raise money to get it printed. Having the map essentially completely ready at this point was definitely as asset, as I could show the full size draft to potential funders, making the project very concrete and real.

My approach to fundraising was to build a distribution network and raise funds at the same time, by asking potential distributors if they would be willing to prepay 40 cents per map for maps that I would give to them to give out.

I successfully signed up seven funders for the project including a bike shop, a hospital, a college, tourism and economic development groups and our local community foundation. I always asked for specific amounts and most people gave me what I asked for, in the $200 to $400 range. Perhaps I could have asked individual funders for more, but having a few more funders meant a broader base of support, and a larger built-in distribution network.

In each case, I pitch the benefits and relevance to the specific organization. When possible, I tried to drop by and show off the map in person, although a lot of the fundraising was done with simple e-mails.

I did not promise anyone up front that they would get their logo on the map or even their name, and no one insisted on  this. I didn’t want to end up with a document that looked like a hodge-podge of corporate logos, like those event t-shirts no one wears in public once the event is over. In the end, I gave all the supporter a subtle text-only mention, which I hope provides sufficient recognition while keep the visual focus of the document on the key content.

Getting Quotes for Printing the Map

Weather Mix
My first pass at guessing the cost of the maps was to ask nearby cities what they paid for theirs. I recall getting answers back in the range $1 to $3 per map. That turned not to be a very accurate way to predict my costs. Having an idea of what my specs would be and talking directly to printers turned to be to much more productive. I’m also glad I asked what 5,000 would cost to print when the answer I got back for 1,000 seemed expensive. The cost for 5,000 turned out to be less than double the cost of 1,000!

Here are the specs I used to talk to printers:

  • 17″ x 22″ full color map, no bleeds,
  • folded into 12 panels, (The same folded size as a tri-fold brochure)
  • Printed on glossy, recycled paper (the gloss should help with rain resistance)
  • Documents provided as high-quality, press-ready PDFs.
  • Price points for 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000.

The size of the map required will vary some by the size of your city, and possibly with your budget. Albuquerque’s, for example, is a good deal larger than ours.

To get an idea of which printers could even handle printing and folding such a job, I asked around with other people that folded brochures in the community. The low quote was from Paust Printers, quoting $2,010 for 5,000 maps, about 40 cents per map.

Present the Bike Map Design to the City

Depot District
Once the map design was substantially complete, I was invited back to meet with the city for a final presentation to the mayor and key department heads (Police, Parks, Streets, Metropolitan Development).

The agenda at this meeting included final approval, funding, signage and next steps.

I again emphasized that this work was supporting the Comprehensive Plan and showed another short slide show to present a positive vision of bike culture. I also went over all the valuable information the back up the map. There was support for the project, but not funding– budgets were already being cut all throughout the city. The idea of signing the routes was also supported, but lack of funds meant that would have to wait as well.

In talking about next steps, I boldly presented to the mayor a new job description– for the new bike/ped coordinator we need! (See the job description as a PDF, edit it as RTF). I emphasized that simply if the idea of having this position was desired, it might be possible to create it through a grant, as an internship or with a volunteer. With the cost of gas likely to continue to climb over time, it seems strategic for city’s to invest in something which can improve quality of life, quality of the air, health and transportation. I haven’t heard anything back about this, but I like to think a seed was planted.

Produce the Bike Route Map (with 100% free software)

Bike Baskety Goodness
With all my content gathered, I sought out the services of a professional graphic designer to put it all together and work with the printer. I failed at finding a volunteer for this, but ended up enjoying taking on this role myself. Although I hadn’t done print design in a long time, I had studied it in the past and had experience designing books and newspapers.

While I won’t go into detail about the graphic design process, I can tell you that I used exclusively free, open source software to complete the job, and felt efficient using these tools. The software involved included:

  • Ubuntu Linux (operating system)
  • Inkscape, for processing source SVG vector graphics from Calgary
  • GraphicsMagick, to convert PDFs from the GIS office into hi-res PNG images
  • Gimp, for photo processing and adding drop shadows
  • Scribus, for layout

About the only especially technical thing I had to keep in mind was to try to use images that were 300 DPI or larger. I used one 150 DPI image anyway, and was still still satisfied with the result. Scribus took care of automatically converting the images to use the CMYK color space and output a high quality PDF, which the printing service was able to translate perfectly. The printing service doesn’t need to have Scribus. Indeed, they have never even asked which software produced the PDF I gave them.

Design the Bike Route Map

Rainy Day Rubber Boots Chic
For the front side of the map– the side that actually has the large map on it, our local City/County GIS department produced the map image and legend for the project at no charge. They were essentially tracing the map we created and it sounded like it wasn’t very hard for them. It helped that our contact there walked to work regularly and believed in the project.

If the city had not cooperated in this way, I would hope that we could get a basic map of the city of through an
“open records request”, and then overlay the routes ourselves, if necessary.

Some more details I included on the map:

  • A photo and description of getting the bikes on and off the buses which had just gotten racks. I had this part approved
    by the local bus organization. They were excited about the project because they considered both bikes and buses to be alternative transportation, which could strengthen each other.
  • A disclaimer of the City’s liability for the use of the map. I’m sure how much it’s worth legally, but it didn’t take up much space and I thought might improve the chance of approval. You can see an example disclaimer I found.
  • A non-official city logo. If the city would pay for the maps, I would swap in their official logo, but that didn’t happen.  Jim Hair let me use the great Richmond logo that he uses for his own promotion of Richmond.