OK, so everyone has seen minority leader, John Bonner freaking out about the stimulus proposal last week. I mean, "oh my God," right?! Last Sunday, on Face the Nation he didn't sound like someone about to be surprised; he even offered his own thoughts on infrastructure projects. Apparently he is all for more cars and bigger roads (or was it bigger cars and more roads?), but heaven forbid we try to make America more beautiful, or give bicyclists a place to ride safely.
I couldn't disagree more. I would love to see more bicycle paths, and I think most people would agree. Can you imagine riding your bike to work, to the store, to the movies, to, well, everywhere? Every day?
Climate issues aside (though many people do ride in pretty harsh conditions), I'll bet most people can't imagine a bicycle as a realistic transportation alternative. The reason is simple; it's a scary proposition. Who wants to bike on the same road as SUVs? Americans do want to ride, but they're afraid to do so according to a Rodale Press Survey published in 1995. The survey found that 40% of Americans would like to bike to work IF there were safe facilities. Bike paths (or safe bike lanes) in other words.
I can't find the original Rodale survey, but Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D - Oregon) referenced it here.
The reasons for personal health and environmental responsibility are far too numerous to list, but a couple of stats do stick out. According to the League of American Bicylists, every four miles ridden rather than driven keeps as much as 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air. And roughly 82% of all trips less than 5 miles are made in personal automobiles. According to the Worldwatch Institute, "cycling accounts for less than 1 percent of all trips" in the US.
But a big part of health is safety. Every year there are roughly 900 bicycle-related fatalities, and over 500,000 bicycle-related injuries that required medical attention (Rodgers, 2001). Dr. Rodgers (the guy who wrote the report previously cited) also points out that "90% of bicycle fatalities involve cars", while "less than 1% of the injuries occurred on the bike paths." The worst part of all of this, though, is that the bicyclist is usually seen to be at fault (even though untrue), and most motorists aren't charged or ticketed with anything...even when they kill somebody (Cars Suck, 1999). More stats here if you're not convinced.
So, here's what I propose: Reject the car culture. Build some bike paths. Do like Redwood City is doing with their "complete streets" initiative; do what Portland has already done; reinvent your urban spaces; reclaim the roads; get to know your neighbors; save some lives; save a planet. Embrace safety and a sustainable relationship with the environment as core values. Ride a bike. Write your congressman.
...or do you agree with Boehner? More/bigger roads for more/bigger cars, because that's what Americans want?
I doubt you agree with Boehner. If you're like me, you probably agree more with Congressman Blumenauer, who, btw, snuck this small step in the right direction into the bailout package.
Disclaimer: I am a bicyclist (duh). My wife is a bicyclist. Neither of us drive our car very often any more, though we do drive when we absolutely have to (which turns out to be about once every three weeks or so). We live in San Diego, which is not a very bike-friendly town, but somehow we still manage to get around just fine without burning gasoline every day (the climate in SD does help though). My wife commutes 24 miles to work each day, lest anyone think her commitment is one of convenience. Me, well, I work from - ahem - home...