From an excellent post at the NYT’s Economix blog:
Here is the economic logic behind increased efforts to promote bicycle use:
Cars enjoy huge direct subsidies in the form of road construction and public parking spaces, as well as indirect subsidies to the oil industry that provides their fuel. These subsidies far exceed the tax revenue generated by car use (as this excellent discussion of the technical issues at stake in these calculations makes clear.)
Yet cars impose major social costs: their use contributes to global warming, traffic congestion, accident fatalities and sedentary lifestyles.
Bicycle use is good for both people and the planet. In a country afflicted by obesity and inactivity, people who get moving become healthier. Riding a bike to work or to do errands is far cheaper than joining a gym. Cutting back on gas consumption improves air quality, reduces dependence on imported oil and saves money.
Increased bicycle use is practical and feasible, especially if it can be combined with effective public transportation for long-distance needs. As John Pucher of Rutgers University (dubbed Professor Bicycle by some of his fans) explains, about 40 percent of all automobile trips in metropolitan areas are less than two miles – a distance easily biked.
Read the rest here.
In general, I’d say the costs of our auto-centric culture, both the public subsidies that make it possible and the social costs it imposes, are largely invisible to most of us. We assume that everybody driving places individually in their car is normal, and anything that departs from that is odd or could only be brought about by some form of social engineering. Just achieving parity between driving and other forms of transportation–by, for example, making it just as easy for people to bike to work as drive–would be a huge accomplishment.