The Politics of Biking

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.

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3 responses to “The Politics of Biking

  1. “…allow a critical mass to build naturally, and then channel available resources to support wherever that mass chooses to take us.”

    While I can appreciate the populist sentiment expressed in that statement, I simply cannot agree that a critical mass of bicycle users will lead us in any good direction. It’s like asking the average motorist to design interstate highways. What we can expect from the crowd is a shrill demand for more bike lanes and more multi-use paths, all based on the dubious premise that they’re somehow safer than the roadway. Crash statistics and best practices based on reality will be tossed aside in favor of what appeals to that large group of bicycle riders (and presumably) voters.

  2. I agree with Ed W. I have noticed a FEW more bikes here in Baltimore on the streets. More importantly, I’ve noticed lighter traffic when I’ve been out on the highways. People are being forced to think about the consequences of conspicuously driving everywhere and not planning their trips accordingly. I don’t think many are jumping on bikes, but everyone is thinking before they jump in their car. A big improvement in my book since we were in real trouble the way our miles driven as a country was outpacing our ability to expand our infrastructure. Less is more.

  3. Thanks for your responses. When I refer to critical mass, it’s in the context of travelers in general, not just bikers. So if the traveling public elects to favor, say plug in electric cars, then we should channel resources into an infrastructure that supports them – like parking meters with an outlet as one example.

    As for biking, I don’t necessarily want more bike lanes and trails, but rather “share-able” roads and lanes with some bike-only streets, and a few pedestrian only.

    My big point is that I would rather any government programs follow the lead of the travelling public as it develops per market forces, rather than attempt to create new infrastructures based on what it perceives as the best mode. That’s how we got away from mass transit (trains, trolleys, buses) in the first place.

    Thanks again for your comments.

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