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Tweeting Above your Weight

Who do you follow on Twitter? And who follows you? It’s not necessarily a numbers game, though I admit sometimes I do get follower size envy. 

According to Colin Delaney, progressive activist, social media guru and author of Online Politics 101 Twitter “is more of a channel to reach the “network influentials,” since it’s particularly popular with bloggers, journalists and activists.” 

Who you follow allows you to filter through the garbage posts of what people ate for breakfast this morning, and get to the news of the day. Even though @mindykaling cracks me up, I’d prefer to see what @bruce_katz is reading first. 

And who follows you determines how far, and maybe even how quickly your messages can spread. If you are followed by active Tweeters, opinion leaders on Twitter, or the bloggers and journalists mentioned above, it’s more likely that your Tweets and your message will have a life beyond your personal Twitter feed. 

Even if you don’t have a huge following you can use @ messages to attract the attention of the audience you want to reach. But…that doesn’t mean sending out messages that look like this: 

@mom, @dad, @petcat, @bestie @bonappetit @NYTimes @ I am waiting for someone to make me breakfast in bed dammit!

The best messages are targeted, directed and still manage to be clever. I am still working on this…

I had some small success last week though when I happened to Tweet @ShellySilver (a brilliant fake Twitter account representing our State Assembly Speaker), about the need for transit on the Tappan Zee Bridge

@ShellySilver can you talk to Mario’s kid about the TPZ? He seems completely farblongjid on this one.

To which Shelly replied:

We’ve gotta pick our fights, kid. MT @danisimons Can you talk to Mario’s kid about the TPZ? He’s farblondget on this.

We batted it back and forth for a few Tweets and then it was time for Shelly to have a tuna sandwich. 

So, great, right? Who cares? I was Tweeting with a FAKE politician. I might as well have been polishing my pet rock collection. Except…@ShellySilver’s feed is followed by a huge number of journalists covering NY politics, not to mention a lot of aides working in the Statehouse. 

Next thing you know…Fred Dicker, New York Post columnist and radio talkshow host picked up on our dialogue and put it on air on his Friday show (start listening around 14:30).

Now, Dicker’s not exactly advocating for the Governor to put bus rapid transit back into the plans of the Tappan Zee Bridge, in fact, he seems more interested in our use of key Yiddish phrases. But it does show how a small, light-hearted Twitter exchange can pop a story up into the mainstream media. That wasn’t my direct intent when I shot off a missive to @ShellySilver, but it’s certainly something I’ll aim harder for in the future. 

More tips from Colin on using Twitter for advocacy can be found here and here



Preparing for Bike Share NYC

I was at AIANY this week for the opening of their show Two Wheel Transit: NYC Bike Share, if you’ve been out of the loop on bike share, it’ll get you up to speed quickly. 

Most of us are getting excited for the bike infusion that we’ll be getting come this summer, a whooping 72% of New Yorkers say they support NYC Bike Share. But many, even the adoring, crush-capacity crowd at AIA who turned out to see Commissioner Sadik-Khan and Alta Bike Share’s Alison Cohen speak, still have some questions. 

One man (and for his sake, I am going to assume he is young, maybe a student or an artist or into improv theater) asked if since there were going to be so many new cyclists on the streets of Manhattan and since at least at first many of them might be riding the wrong way anyhow, if the City had considered making the Avenues two-ways for safety. Now that is a really charming idea. While I do support the idea of designing streets with the needs of pedestrians and cyclists at the fore; I am fairly certain we’re not yet at the point of converting all of the Avenues to two-way to accomodate wrong-way riding. 

What the City has already started to do, and will be doing a lot more of soon is educating cyclists about smart cycling behavior. I think in time more cyclists riding overall will also mean more cyclists riding the right way and not like street racers. And this will have a civilizing effect overall. Now this is totally anecdotal, but I feel like bike lights is a good example of this. A few years ago on the bridges listen very closely to tell whether or not a bike was stealthily approaching under the cover of darkness. Now it’s like a steady stream of blinky lights in both directions. I feel like a jerk when I forget mine at home. 

Of course there are some clever ways that the City can help spread the message about smart cycling, and get more salmon out of the stream. 

 @clarkebowling suggested more signs, like these in Providence (I am actually pretty sure we have a few of them in NYC already too). But do we need more permanent signs on our streets? We’re already at pretty epic levels of signage clutter in NYC already. 

Maybe a more temporary approach, paired with a press release or two about the campaign could make a splash. Here’s one fun idea that Mexico City used to educate cyclists after opening the city’s first protected bike lanes on the Reforma and starting their bike share program nearly two years ago

The new lanes on the Reforma go through the heart of Mexico City, and some of its highest rent districts. They have clear directional indicators in the lane itself reminding cyclists that the lane is one-way, this part’s permanent but doesn’t require new signage. 

Not actually a real cyclist. The City placed corrugated plastic life-sized cutouts of cyclists riding in the correct direction at intervals along the new lanes (kind of in the edge of the bike lanes, I propped this one up on the sidewalk to get a better shot of it). 

Before the lanes were filled with enough cyclists to clearly indicate the right way to ride, these guys (and there were ladies also) served as visual cues. This part’s temporary and can be paired with a media campaign and even direct outreach to cyclists on a few “bike smart” or “ride right” days. 

There are several interesting education campaigns out there that have been created in the lead-up to bike share launches in other cities. I’ll try and post a few more to pass the time as we countdown to 10,000 new bikes on our streets here. 

Learn more about NYC Bike Share at



Using Hashtags to Build #Bike Community

Maybe I’ve been spending too much time in front of my computer this holiday season, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how lots of “next generation” bike commuters in New York are forging a useful and meaningful community via Twitter. 

When I first started riding here, it seemed that every hardcore bike commuter I met (at the time, mostly older, most white, mostly men, mostly in spandex, who tended to go on and on and on at various community meetings or social occasions) read a listserv called e-bikes.

But e-bikes was often filled with cranky complainers and the tips and useful bits of information were few and far between. At that point getting answers on bike questions (such as, when is that new lane going to be installed, or when is that construction on the bridge going to be finished) was also much harder than it is today, so people turned to e-bikes for answers. And even if you had a “silly” newbie question like “How can I make sure my hair doesn’t look totally ridiculous when I arrive at work after biking 7 miles in a helmet?” you had to find an actual bike commuter (a rarer breed eight years ago), or risk putting that question out on e-bikes and being snarked at. 

Today, all of those questions and more are being asked semi-anonymously through the #bikenyc hashtag, and many people are offering tips and encouragement using the same. 

Consider this tweet (which was retweeted by several others) from @MikeLydon the other morning, the first brutally cold snap of this winter “Dear #bikenyc, you look beautiful all bundled up on the morning commute. Keep riding!” 

A few other cities appear to be catching on and using a bike hashtag, I found a decent number of #bikeChi and #bikeLA tweets on a recent search. 

As we saw this spring and summer in the Middle East, (and even earlier than that in Iran), Twitter and it’s hashtags can be a very powerful way to organize, or at the very least spread information through a diffuse community. Clay Shirky has written very eloquently about the political power of social media, if you happen to be more interested in this, than say, biking… 

It’s worth advocacy organizations or even city governments promoting city bike hashtags. Twitter is a great way to distribute rapid bits of information (“Bridge closed for emergency repairs tonight” or “Careful for the big new pothole that just appeared on Maple Lane” or “Free bike lights being distributed this evening on Maple Lane”). And since the media increasingly monitors Twitter for tips and breaking news, important tweets are often rebroadcast outside of Twitter as well. Using a hashtag at the end of these tweets allows users to create a dedicated “search” for this information, almost like tuning their Twitter radio to your station if you need an old-school analogy.

Twitter hashtags are also a good way for communities of interest to share information and support each other. Even if you don’t know a bike commuter personally in New York (which now seems rather far-fetched), you can connect with hundreds online via #bikenyc. Sure, some are still snarky as hell, but many are friendly, or as friendly as New York City cyclists get anyway…at least you don’t have to look at any spandex. At least not until you go to one of those #bikenyc meetups. But even then I’ve been pleasant surprised to find that #bikenyc fashion has evolved quite a bit since I arrived nearly eight years ago. 

Not that I’m the boss of this, but I’d recommend for cities that aren’t using a bike hashtag yet to pick a simple one, maybe just #bike + your city’s airport code, which would keep things short (important for Twitter) local and easy to remember (important for the overall usability/success). 

That would give you #bikeBOS for Boston, #bikeMSP for Minneapolis St. Paul, #bikePDX for Portland, #bikeSFO for San Fran, etc… 

If I missed any cities that are already making great use of a hashtag to build cycling community online, let me know. I’d be eager to take a look at some other examples and learn more about how others are using this technique. 

Some basic do’s and don’t for hashtag use in case you’re new to Twitter and wanted some more tips.