The Passing of Whimcycle is Just Fine

Someone is not happy with the changes undergoing the Whimcycle mural in Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood.  The mural, on the side of the building now known as The Phoenix, is being replaced – with a new piece by the original artist, Toobz Muir! – and this week someone decided to deface the new piece with a bit of critical graffiti.

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New Arts Grant Available from the City of Roanoke

We enjoyed working with the City’s Arts Commission on the “In a Tangle” piece and have some other projects in the work.  Interested neighborhood organizations and others may want to look at the grant, below, as a way to get some interesting bike or transit infrastructure along your streets:

Roanoke, VA – The City of Roanoke and the Foundation for RoanokeValley announced today a partnership to offer mini-grants toward implementation of the city’s Arts and Cultural Plan.  Grants between $500 to $2,500 will be awarded to non-profits, , schools and organizations to fund projects that have a clear community benefit, are collaborative in nature, and which advance one or more of the city’s three main arts and cultural policies: “Vibrant Region–Healthy Economy;” “Livable Communities–Engaged Neighborhoods;” and “People–Education–Lifelong Learning.” A total of $12,000 in funding is available.

The city’s first Arts and Cultural Plan was adopted by City Council in August 2011. The plan was developed by the Roanoke Arts Commission and the City’s Planning Department with partner organizations, as well as citizen input drawn from numerous focus groups, public meetings, and a survey. Additionally, analysis of other communities’ best practices in arts and cultural development helped to shape the plan.

The Foundation’s Executive Director, Alan Ronk, noted: “When the City approached us to partner on this effort, we jumped at the chance to help double the amount that could be awarded this year.  Our Community Catalyst Funds are intended to make important projects happen, and we look forward to seeing the many creative ideas that flow from the grants process.”

Mayor David Bowers expressed his appreciation to the Foundation by saying “Arts and Culture are an important business in the Roanoke region. The programs which these grants support will add to the vitality and diversity of the city making Roanoke a place where people and businesses want to live, work and visit. We are grateful to Foundation for RoanokeValley for joining us to sustain the arts in the City of Roanoke.”

Grant applications and information can be downloaded at www.roanokeva.gov. For further information, contact Susan Jennings, Arts and Cultural Coordinator, at susan.jennings@roanokeva.gov.  For information about Foundation for Roanoke Valley, visit www.foundationforroanokevalley.org.

 

Giant Comb Bike Rack Gets Big Attention

"In a Tangle" - Roanoke's newest bike rack and piece of public art

Well it’s in.  In a Tangle was dedicated last Friday in the Grandin Village as both the City of Roanoke’s newest piece of public art, as well as its newest piece of bicycle infrastructure.  the 12′ long sculpture can hold 10 bikes easily, and probably more than that with a little creativity.  I was very pleased at the turnout for the dedication, all the great comments made about the piece and the City’s efforts at becoming more bicycle friendly, and even the attention we got for the new Art by Bike route posted over on bikeroanoke.com.  Special thanks to David Tate with WSET for highlighting the route.

In a Tangle was developed by Popup Design in L.A.  After the dedication, I got to ride with the artist, Kagan Taylor, as we toured the eight miles of the Art by Bike route and explored a couple different areas of the city.  Not a bad gig to get to ride your bike for work on a sunny Friday afternoon.

I thought the end of the ride meant the end of the bike-rack related excitement, but it turns out it just got better over the weekend.

First, Popup Design partner Joshua Howell shared that an online design magazine, GOOD, had interviewed them and ran some photos of In a Tangle while it was still in their yard in L.A.  That article and photo has since been picked up by a number of other art and design blogs:  Curbed L.A., The Fox is Black, Colossal Art and Design, Trendhunter, and Incredible Things among them.

Treehugger magazine picked it up on Saturday, and Etsy’s Facebook page shared the article to a flood of positive comments.  Google results for “bike rack comb roanoke” currently return over 18,000 hits (which is, admittedly, an extremely inflated number but a heck of a lot of fun to type).

I’m incredibly proud that RIDE Solutions got to be a part of this, grateful for the immense amount of work the city’s Arts Commission undertook to make it happen, and enormously gratified that the installation seems to be getting Roanoke a lot of good press both for its arts scene as well as its bike culture.

RIDE Solutions Program Director Jeremy Holmes, Roanoke City Vice-Mayor David Trinkle, Arts Commission Chair Nathan Harper, and artist Kagan Taylor cut the ribbon on "In a Tangle"

I wanted to share my comments from the dedication, because I think this piece is not only important for its artistic value and its contribution to safe cycling infrastructure, but also for its economic impact:

RIDE Solutions is thrilled to partner with the Roanoke Arts Commission to bring this new piece to the Grandin Village.   The RIDE Solutions mission is to help people find ways to connect to alternative transportation – to improve air quality, to lead healthier lives, and, ultimately, to save money.  Over the past several years, we have seen bicycling for transportation become an increasingly important part of the region’s transportation picture, as well as a core component of its economic health.

A recent news story reported that economists estimate that for every 10 cent increase in gas prices, 7 million dollars leaves the local economy.  RIDE Solutions believes that encouraging people to ride their bikes by building safe cycling infrastructure and safe bike parking not only helps families take control of their own budgets by avoiding these spikes in fuel costs, it keeps their hard-earned dollars right here in the Roanoke Valley to support our wonderful local businesses and entrepreneurs, people who are working hard and taking risks to make Roanoke a beautiful, vibrant place to live.

We’re particularly excited to see In a Tangle installed in the Grandin Village, one of the bicycle friendliest locations in the Roanoke Valley.  It’s our hope that this major sculptural work will reinforce the Grandin Village as a destination for cyclists as they travel the nearby bike routes and greenways, and its whimsical design will add to the character of this vibrant neighborhood.

I want to thank the businesses and residents of the Grandin area for their support of this project, and the Arts Commission for their partnership in helping bring this piece to fruition.  And I look forward to telling my fellow cyclists, “I’ll meet you at the Comb.”

If Roanoke is already getting a lot of good national attention for the piece, just think what kind of reputation that gives us for, say, attracting the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company to our region, a company who has expressed a deep interest in the outdoors and cycling as part of its corporate values.  (By the way, there’s a very active Facebook effort to bring Sierra Nevada here – go visit the Bring Sierra Nevada to Southwest Virginia page and click ‘like’ to support the cause).  Public art and bicycle infrastructure not only helps Roanoke Valley residents here and now, but are investments in the community that will reap rewards in a business environment that will be increasingly interested in concepts like sustainability.

City reschedules bike rack unveiling in Grandin Village

Roanoke, VA — The City of Roanoke announces the rescheduled unveiling of an artistic bike rack on Friday, July 1, at 10:30 a.m. in the 1300 block of Grandin Road. This bike rack is the latest addition to the city’s public art collection, and is co-sponsored by RIDE Solutions, the sustainable transportation service of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued in late 2010 for artists to submit designs for a one-of-a-kind bike rack. Twenty-nine artists responded, and a selection panel made up of citizens, a RIDE Solutions representative, a local artist, and bike enthusiasts unanimously chose the work of Popup Design. Principal artists Joshua Howell and Kagan Taylor bring together backgrounds in public art, architecture, and fine woodworking. Their work can be seen in California, Washington state, and China. Taylor says their design “provides a whimsical play on the standard undulating wave rack by turning it into another familiar object.”

Jeremy Holmes, director of RIDE Solutions and a member of the panel, stated, “This project emphasizes the links between the Valley’s growing bicycle culture and the region’s already vital arts and cultural community. Not only does the rack serve as a unique work of public art, but also as an important piece of bike infrastructure by providing safe, secure parking for cyclists. We believe the installation in Grandin Village is particularly appropriate as the Village is a model for sustainable design, and we’re happy to reinforce its reputation as a fun and welcoming destination for cyclists of all ages and skill levels.”

In May 2010, the City of Roanoke announced its designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Roanoke’s Public Art program has supported the city’s commitment to the cycling community by incorporating a number of custom-designed bike racks into its program of work.

City of Roanoke Arts and Culture Coordinator Susan Jennings said, “The newly extended greenway through Vic Thomas Park and the bike lanes on Memorial Avenue allow for easy access for bikers to Grandin Village. We needed a space with sidewalks wide enough to accommodate the art and wanted a location with a lot of activity so we could encourage people to use bicycles to do their shopping, eat out, and attend events. Grandin Village offers all of this in a compact area.”

For more information about the bike rack dedication, or about the city’s Public Art program, contact Susan Jennings at 540-853-5652 or Susan.Jennings@roanokeva.gov. For information about cycling as alternative transportation, contact Jeremy Holmes at 540-342-9393, or visit the RIDE Solutions website at http://ridesolutions.org

Integrating TDM into Arts and Culture

Note:  TDM stands for Transportation Demand Management.  I sometimes get wrapped up on my acronyms.

This summer, I’ll be presenting on this topic – Integrating TDM into Arts and Culture – at the International Conference of the Association of Commuter Transportation in Chicago (you can find me in the last breakout session of the last day of the conference, so I’ve got the feeling I’ll be speaking to a much-diminished audience).  The abstract for my presentation is this:

Working with employers and local governments is the best way to get TDM programs implemented, but working with arts and cultural groups can be a powerful way to bring relevance, awareness, and community support to those same TDM efforts, as well as building a broad base of volunteers and citizen activists to take on promotional efforts and events. RIDE Solutions in Roanoke, Virginia, has worked with a number of artists, art groups, projects, and other creative efforts to build awareness and support for TDM activities in the community at-large. Attendees will get a sense of where to start looking to get involved in arts groups, working with artists and creative types, and how to leverage successful programs to improve their brand image.

Sounds nice, but there’s only one problem:  I’m not sure where to go from here.

Opening day at the Car Less Brit Museum | Photo by Jeremy Holmes

The impetus for this presentation comes from three major sources.  The first was the Car Less Brit Experiment, for which I credit its progenitor, River Laker, with a lot of the flowering of local bike culture we’ve seen in the last three years.  I think the strength River brought to his experiment with carlessness was not merely his position in the community and his willingness to undertake and heavily promote the experiment, but his close relationship with area artists and creatives through the Emerging Artists program at the Roanoke Libraries (the link goes to the program’s Facebook Group).    My sense is that this helped reinforce bicycling for transportation as not merely a mode choice, but also something of a creative endeavor.  Certainly, River was creative about the way he introduced people to cycling through things like the Car Less Brit Party and its attendant fashion show, the Manif Spaciale, the Car Less Brit Museum, and other events.  He promoted cycling not by talking about the benefits we all know about (though those came up, of course), but by turning his carlessness into an act of creativity and inspiring others to do the same.  There have been many factors in play, and a whole range of players, that has led to the increase in cyclists in Roanoke over the past couple of years, but I can’t help but to think that River’s particular approach helped lay the foundation for other efforts by drastically increasing cycling’s cool factor, and helping to make it acceptable to do other weird and wonderful things with bicycling, like riding very tiny ones very fast down mountains.

William Fleming Bus Shelter

Bus shelter at William Fleming High School | Photo by Jeremy Holmes

The second was the Roanoke Arts Commission program which led to two artistic bus shelters in the City, one at each high school.  I’ve written about each of them on this blog, one favorably here and the other much less favorably here.   Though I wasn’t pleased with the design of one of the shelters, it was invaluable to have a discussion about transit that wasn’t solely about the operation or financial issues surrounding the service, but about how transit infrastructure could serve as a way to beautify a community, to turn something eminently drab – a bench, a roof, a route sign –  into something unique, interesting, and discussion-worthy.

The last is in a similar vein, an upcoming installation of an artistic bike rack in the Grandin Village this Saturday, May 21st, at 10:00 A.M., a joint effort of RIDE Solutions and the Arts Commission.  Like the shelter, this will provide a piece of useful TDM support infrastructure (safe bicycle parking in a dense, multi-use neighborhood) that also doubles as interesting public art that, I hope, the community will embrace in a way they wouldn’t embrace a simple series of U-shaped bike racks.  Another element of the bike rack unveiling will be an Art by Bike Tour, a guided tour of some of Roanoke’s public art pieces entirely on bicycle, utilizing both greenways and on-road accommodations.

I’ve got a sense from these three efforts that TDM can benefit enormously from these kinds of partnerships.  In part, I think this is because TDM – as a transportation strategy that challenges the dominant drive-yourself-by-yourself-absolutely-everywhere idea – has a natural affinity with artists and creative subcultures who simply enjoy challenging the status quo for the heck of it.  I also think that Roanoke is in a unique position to capitalize on this because we have some strong leaders and lofty goals for our region as a place where arts and culture (particularly music), the outdoors, and the environment all coalesce.  TDM is a bridge between all of these, supporting environmental goals and maintaining our outdoor amenities through clean transportation, and encouraging multiple safe, convenient transportation modes that increase mobility and access to cultural centers and venues.

I’ve also got a sense that this is where TDM can really compete with traditional transportation.  After all, part of our competition is not merely the practical matter of bike/bus/carpool/telework vs. drive alone – its a matter of image, and car companies have done a fantastic job of telling you that buying an expensive car and driving fast with the stereo blaring will make you very, very happy.  Truth be told, some cars can also be amazingly beautiful machines.  It’s tough to say that of a bus.

But I don’t think it needs to be.

I think that examples like the bus shelters, like (I hope) the bike rack, show that making TDM interesting and creative and beautiful will help it compete.  Make a bus shelter that people want to stand under, a rack that people want to bike their bikes in, and they are likely to use it.  I think there’s an enormous value in making these things so interesting they become destinations that encourage you to use the mode they support.  They become elements of a community that hold a lot more pride than a parking lot.  I think River’s example show that approaching mode choice as something fun, exciting, and creative also helped it compete against a mode of transportation that more and more means expensive refueling, slogging traffic lines, ongoing debt, and environmental damage.

I don’t know if there’s enough here for an hour-long presentation, though.  Am I crazy?  Is there anything really here?  I’d be curious how other communities have seen the arts and TDM interact, particularly where venues have really embraced encouraging alternative modes (I’ve begun that discussion here in Roanoke, but we’ve still got a long ways to go – the Taubman Museum, for example, has a list of nearby parking garages but doesn’t say anything about the much more convenient bike parking under the nearby Pedestrian Bridge, or the fact that the Campbell Court Transportation Center – just a block away – provides easy bus access to the museum via both Valley Metro and Smart Way Buses, and that the Star Line Trolley has a stop less than a block from the museum entrance).  Do you see TDM as being in a position to take more advantage of a community’s artistic and creative impulses more than than traditional transportation modes?  And, finally, how does arts and culture influence the way a community develops that naturally supports TDM – I wonder, for example, if the City’s Arts and Cultural plan will reinforce ideas of density and mixed-use development, and if there’s anything to the fact that the urban City is pursuing an Arts and Culture Plan while the suburban County does not?

UPDATE:    Something else I had intended to add but forgot (chalk it up to writing most of this late last night way past my bedtime):  One of my goals in thinking through this is, really, to consider our marketing strategy and how we grow program awareness.  Since arts and cultural organizations and efforts are almost always focused on the community in which they serve in a way that goes beyond just doing business, those kinds of partnerships also seem natural connections for TDM, which is also a very local, community-focused activity.  The RIDE Solutions sponsorship of/partnership with The Shadowbox Community Microcinema is one manifestation of that.  We do get our name in front of the Shadowbox’s audience, which is, I think, an important group for us to reach; but by supporting an organization that supports local filmmakers and other artists, we contribute to growing a cultural venue that makes downtown Roanoke a more attractive place and, therefore, supports the kind of urban density that’s an important part of the success of TDM.