With the rising gas prices and resultant increase in bike ridership, there have been more and more articles and posts related to how cyclists are now going to take over and how the world is going to change. With any discourse, it’s usually the more extreme views that get the most attention, and unfortunately, this issue is no exception. Reality will typically surface somewhere in between.
First, things are already changing. Folks are looking for short term solutions to cut their gas expenses, and using a bicycle for commuting and errands is proving to be a viable option for many. I see it everyday in the city where white collar workers are appearing next to the blue collar urban residents as bike commuters. These aren’t necessarily athletic types who are looking for a workout – rather, they are just normal slobs who appear to be trying to save a buck or two by riding their bikes to work. They are doing their best to navigate safely in a car-based structure. Fortunately, its summer, so traffic is a bit lighter and the weather is cooperative. What will happen this fall when things get cold and vacation season is over remains to be seen.
But so far, I don’t think this increase in ridership has resulted in much else changing. No bike lanes have suddenly popped up, there aren’t more bike racks appearing, and I don’t think driving habits have changed that much. You see, along with biking, people are trying to save money with increased carpooling, riding the busses more, walking, switching to motorcycles and scooters, and also telecommuting. It’s all incremental, and its all “multi-dimensional.”
Now, I would like to see the bicycle emerge as a prominent mode of transportation. I think that there are a number of obvious benefits that would go far to cancelling out the problems created by a car-based society; the biggest of which for me is land use. Most of those arguments have already been made eslewhere, so I’ll spare the details.
But I’m also willing to support other approaches to the “gas crisis”, including other forms of cheap transportation, additional drilling, alternative fuels, green energy, conservation, etc… again; a multi-disciplined approach. What I don’t want is a government program or policy that attempts to steer us in one particular direction.
I don’t think anyone in government is smart enough to figure out what that direction should be. I don’t think anyone in government is immune from the influence of various lobbies who would have a vested interest in one particular direction over another, and I don’t think the public would find consensus on whatever direction is chosen.
I would rather we suffer the pains of market economics, allow a critical mass to build naturally, and then channel available resources to support wherever that mass chooses to take us. Its been said that leadership involves finding a parade and then jumping out in front of it. I believe that this is the perfect example. Let’s just hope those leaders are riding bicycles.