Sunday, September 11, 2011

Better Bicycle Parking Please

I’m an avid cyclist and bicycle commuter. I ride most days to work and try to make short trips around the neighborhood for small errands and to bring my oldest to school.  I have been a commuter for more than 25 years and one universal problem I experience is adequate parking/lock up facilities most places I go.  

Like all seasoned commuters I’ve become skillful at using any form of street furniture or building appendage to lock up. But it’s not always easy and it often limits access to other users of the public right of way. But there is hope. I search blogs and RSS feeds all the time for new and exciting bicycle parking solutions, and here are a few of my most recent favorites.

Cycle Hoops is a small company that I love. They jumped on the scene through re-purposing street signs with simple attachments that create easy parking without costly new instilations or using up extra space on sidewalk. Check out Cycle Hoops here:

NYC has also been replacing meters since last year with bike racks and carried out a large design competition a few years back to select the design. I’m not sue why they needed to replace the meters with racks (instead of re-purposing Alla Cycle Hoop) but I’ll support the addition of racks over meters to safely park my bike.

The Delaware Valley Green Building Council held a design competition last year to re-purpose a parking lot in downtown Philly for bicycle parking. While it would be great to have so much parking in one area I’m not sure if bike parking will ever need 300 or 500 sights in one place, even in Philly. Cyclist like there ability to be free to park close to work, including parking in their offices. But I certainly love the design and hope that someday this type of mass parking will encourage bicycle tourists to visit downtown.

Annie Scheel, BIKE & Delaware Valley Green Building Council
Some ideas may be great concepts, but I’m not so sure they’ll last. Riverside, California launched the bike shell program three year ago, and while I couldn’t find newer photos of them, I’m interested in knowing just how long these last and if the planners still think it was a good idea.

Finally, there are some idea I feel won’t work just by looking at them. I hate to nay-say on and creative concepts, but I’m almost certain that the rotating bicycle hanging system proposed by  Manifesto Architects won’t become mainstream. Although, I understand they are installing a prototype now and may even have a buyer lined up. I hope they prove me wrong.

The vertically-hung, space-saving Bike Hanger by Manifesto Architecture

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

PreFab Homes - Blu Homes Might Make You Happy

A great article on Tree Hugger last week brought some new light on the Prefab home builder Blu Homes. Blu has a very unique and possibly one of a kind folding modular home building system that solves some of the problems that modular housing faces. Specifically, Blu Homes are designed so that in transport mode they are more compact than typical modular systems from other companies (mostly manufactured home builders), plus they are are also able to squeeze more home into the same module since each unit unfolds into a larger single unit.

Now this company has been around for some time and they are one of the few designer/builders of modular homes that also work with home owners through the install process. This gives them several advantages over more typical arrangements in the modular home field, and makes it possible to improve upon subsequent designs, as feed back from install is direct to the builder/designer.

I’ve been touting Blu as if I’m a big fan of modular, and while my heart is with the concept, I’m not sure that I believe it will solve every problem that the first modular home proponets had dreamed of. As Lloyd Alter, with Tree Hugger wrote in his post,

“Unfortunately, the goalposts have moved in the decade since Allison Arieff wrote the book Prefab. Then, the vision of those working in green modern prefab was to make it affordable and accessible to a large market, to do for housing what IKEA did for furniture. Instead, it is generally being used to build expensive country homes on huge exurban lots for individual homeowners, and in an era of climate crisis, that's not solving a problem but is making it worse. The problem has changed, and it's bigger than Blu.

Mr. Alter is spot on here. The goal posts have moved and unfortunately most of the dreamers behind modular housing have missed the target by a mile. If there are any “affordable” modular homes in the market today, it’s likely they’re also called double wides or mobile homes. That’s not to say that there are plenty of well build manufacture homes out there. But the idea of modular homes, in my opinion, should be more than a modern looking Palm Harbor home.

The promise of affordability so often espoused by prefab converts has never been realized. Advocates point to the Katrina Cottage, Clayton I-Homes and the dozens of university competition homes that never reach the market. And that’s the problem, these examples never reach a point of saturation in the market place. Until a home design becomes “popular” with the masses (me included) then the promise of low cost through mechanization and standardization will never occur for modular homes.

The other problem I see, and I’ll give Mr. Alter kudos for pointing this out in other blog posts, is that currently the market for modern and green modular is driven by generally wealthy or at least upper middle class home buyers. This means that what ends up on the market (i.e. the 20+ I Homes that have been built since 2008) are loaded with high cost finishes and features, and provide little promise to the rest of the affordable market.

I’m sure by now I really do sound like a “Debbie Downer” on affordable modular homes, but I do believe in their promise. Maybe what we really need though is less focus on making modular affordable modern looking homes, and more focus on making modular affordable homes that are energy efficient and green.