2008: Year of the Bicycle?

Ahead of this week’s National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, syndicated columnist Neal Peirce wonders if 2008 will be "bicycling’s best year since the start of the auto age." He writes about developments promoting the bicycle as a legitimate form of transportation around the world, many of which have been featured right here on Streetsblog:

First the trends: oil costs are surpassing $100 a barrel, global warming alarm calls are mounting, polluting autos and trucks increasingly clog city streets, and health concerns about a sedentary and fattening society are mounting.

And now the developments: Handy bike-for-hire stations are proving instant hits in Paris and other European cities and seem poised to invade urban America. Moves to add painted bike lanes along city roadways are being eclipsed by proposals for entire networks of "bike boulevards" — roadways altered radically to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. And a companion "Complete Streets" movement — making roadway space for cyclists and pedestrians, not just cars and trucks — is gaining traction nationwide.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), founder of the Congressional Bike caucus (now 160-bipartisan members strong), claims a new pro-bike politics is forming, that it can mobilize a 1-million-plus national constituency and force clear recognition of the role of bicycles in the next (2009) federal transportation bill. He and the Bike Summit will be pushing a sense of Congress resolution recognizing the potential of bikes to undergird a greener, healthier and more efficient national future.

Cycling, nationwide, still counts for tiny portions of commuting and shopping trips. But Portland’s experience shows the potential, Blumenauer insists: since that city’s bike program began in the 1990s, the "modal split" for bikes has quadrupled and a $100 million bike industry of bike shops, bike sales, a start of manufacturing and bike tourism, accounting for 1,000 jobs, has emerged.

Paris’ "velib" bike rental program — the name combines "velo" (bicycle) and "liberte (freedom) — opened last July and registered an astounding 2 million trips in its first 40 days. Almost identical systems are sprouting up across Europe — in Lyons, Rennes, Barcelona, Oslo, Stockholm, Seville, Brussels, Vienna. Many others are soon to come including London and Rome. There’s also reported interest in Moscow and Beijing.

This April the first serious U.S. fast bike-rental system is due to open in Washington, D.C., followed shortly by San Francisco. Considering the idea or in active negotiations are Houston, Tucson, San Antonio, Portland, Cambridge and Boulder. Among possible U.S. cities is Chicago — Mayor Richard Daley tested a Velib bike in Paris last summer and came back a fan. 

Photo: weinaiko/Flickr

  • Larry Littlefield

    The article doesn’t even mention the biggest advantage of bicycles — money. No public operating costs, little public capital costs.

    We are heading for a federal, state, local and personal fiscal meltdown, in which our elected officials, having squandared our future to reward those who matter, will face a sea of transportation and energy problems with little to offer.

    Bicycles, carpooling and telecommmuting are the solutions that don’t cost.

  • paulb

    I am a bike commuter between Bkln and Manhattan, but it’s still a little difficult for me to visualize so many people commuting via bike that it makes a noticeable difference in other forms of transit. I mean, there are 2 billion rides on the subway each year. But without seeing any numbers I have a feeling that just the opening of the foot/bike paths on the Manhattan Bridge has greatly increased bike traffic over the East River.

    I doubt that an objective or traditional cost/benefit analysis would favor spending much $$ on bikeways. But bicycling feels good. It makes people who do it feel good, usually. NYC is a place that’s so (insanely) conscious of all the actions of celebrities, the R&F, the so-called powerful, the ambitious in their SUVs and limos… Well, ambition and success are a big part of what NYC is about, so no surprise. And yet it’s also a place where citizens and organizational machinery are very reluctant about doing anything differently, a very conformist place.

    The bike as a means of mobility… it needs to continue to build respectable “mindshare.” Naked bike protests and critical mass… I don’t like these. “All publicity is good publicity.” Not.

  • Paul,

    I’d have said the same thing before I visited Copenhagen with its nearly 40% bike share. I think it’ll take a lot of years but NYC, flat and compact as it is, has the potential to be one of the world’s great bike commuting cities, with a significant share of transportation done via two wheels.

  • George Washington bridge bike path to be reclaimed as a 24 hour bicycle roadway.

  • gecko

    PaulB & Aaron,

    Might both be too conservative as we are rapidly reaching a tipping point for making design and development of safe distributed on-demand human-scaled vehicles a major player in transport solutions to global warming

  • sorry “needs to be reclaimed”
    i believe the outlawing of alt transportation methods in the ny state area are due to the fear of loss of revenue.
    how high will gas have to go to before there is a real push to let alt transportation on the local roads.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    For those who doubt the cost effectiveness of investing in bicycle infrastructure, all one needs to do is look at Berlin. When the city was reunified the city council realized that it didn’t have the money to modernize the East immediately up to the West’s standards particularly when it came to the Metro or U-Bahn. Instead it decided that the old trolleys would have to do and the most cost effective action was to invest heavily in improving the bicycle network all around the city. Why? Because it was by far the cheapest action and had incredible bang for the buck … uhhh I mean Euro.

    Imagine all the first rate bicycle and pedestrian facilities could be built for the cost of just a couple of blocks of the 2nd Avenue Subway!!

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Imagine all the first rate bicycle and pedestrian facilities could be built for the cost of just a couple of blocks of the 2nd Avenue Subway!!)

    Exactly. This country is about to get somewhat poorer, and public finances are about to be stretched, as we are forced to pay money back rather than go deeper and deeper into debt. This as the most selfish generations in history transfer more and more money to themselves.

    So the MTA makes promises for 40 years from now. Right.

    In the meantime, my daughter took 1 1/2 hours to get home on the subway yesterday. Signal failure, presumably. And it’s going to get worse.

    We took an nearly an hour to get from our house to BAM by bus Saturday night, due to a subway shutdown, presumably for a signal interlocking in-service. I we wouldn’t get run over by an SUV, it could have been biked in 15 to 20 minutes.

    Again, this is all new to, but once you a little of it, you see things differently.

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