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2029: The Year Bicycles Save the World

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Since it's the offseason, we can afford to venture off-topic a bit and discuss cycling issues unrelated to the pros. Today's top story seems to be bike-commuting.

This morning, the New York Times ran a story on the Portland, Oregon bike culture (h/t Drew), so their Megalopolis audience could gawk at the notion of biking and bikers being mainstream, not merely the province of messenger kooks and weekend recreationists. Portland is an anomaly, in that they embraced cycling earlier and more enthusiastically... not an atypical reaction by Portlanders to new ideas. And the point of the article appears to be that Portland is more than a city with good bike lanes; biking has become fundamentally ingrained in Rose City life.

I'm an ex-Portlander, so I won't weigh in too much, but my current, driveby impression is that it's no joke. Now, Seattle has kind of a big-brother relationship with Portland: same basic genetic code, but like all older siblings, when it's time for social engineering projects, we prefer to get Portland to try it first... and when Portland's innovations take off, we're quick to pounce. Thus today's news is that Seattle has approved a massive plan to spend as much as $240 million on various improvements to the cycling network -- contingent on availability of funds, but making these improvements a priority is a key step. The kicker? "Seattle is attempting to catch Portland, which has seen rapid cycling growth in the last few years."

There's a larger story behind all of this: the interplay of transportation issues and global warming. Transportation policy has been a big deal pretty much since the invention of the wheel, but global warming has a heightened potential to force changes. With the Bush Administration dropping their guard, we're moving beyond the political argument about whether global warming is a threat, and my own anecdotal experience is that people everywhere are growing alarmed. The climate conundrum is massively complex, but we know carbon dioxide is a significant element, and cars are a significant source of CO2. Thus, for starters, numerous cities are contemplating ways they can proactively do their part with transportation planning.

This is where bikes come in. Bikes are not merely fun to race, they're also the most efficient people-moving device ever invented. Zero fuel required beyond a hunk of bread, shot of espresso, soylent green power bar, etc. Zero emissions. They also go fast, handle easily, and work remarkably well in those tight, urban spaces where cars perform their worst. In short, if a locality wants to reduce its share of emissions, getting a few people out of cars and onto bikes is a no-brainer. And if your city is busily painting bike lanes, chances are they're not just tossing a bone to the bikers anymore; they're looking at bikes as part of the solution to far more pressing concerns.

Portland is a model to all in this respect, but I suspect there are places besides Seattle anxiously following along. Other innovation-minded places like San Francisco, Boulder, Burlington (VT), etc. are surely getting in on the act. But I wonder, what's happening in some of the bigger cities, like Chicago? LA? Boston? Denver? Las Vegas? Miami? Washington? What's happening in the smaller cities of America, where the need isn't as acute but the solutions are easier? How about outside the US? How about Vancouver? Montreal? London? Brussels? And so forth... I'd love some stories, links, etc. on whether there is any sort of mass movement toward bikes as transportation, and what's being done.

Bikes may not save the world in 22 years, or at any other time. But in this time it's possible they'll become far more important and familiar to the world than they have been since the car came along. Think about it: no more ignorant honking cars, no more drivers in the bike lane, no more Bob Roll explaining modern derailleurs to the American Tour de France audience. We can dream, at least...