The economic logic of cycling

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.

Bike commute update

It’s been about a month or so since I started commuting to work by bike, and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The Capital Bikeshare has worked out extremely well–I haven’t run into any problems with bikes being unavailable or there not being room to dock the bike at my destination station.

The most challenging aspect of the whole thing has probably been getting the logistics down. First, there’s the route. D.C. has a fair number of bike lanes, but also a fair number of busy streets with heavy traffic and drivers who are in a big hurry. But I’ve mapped a few routes that maximize bike lanes and/or stick to secondary streets. I think a misperception I had initially was the traffic would be extremely hairy, but the nature of dense city driving is that, by and large, cars simply aren’t able to drive that fast during the morning or evening commute. Of course, you still have to watchful and attentive.

Another aspect of the commute that has required some thought is the weather. D.C. has notoriously hot and muggy summers, and I don’t want to arrive at the office dripping with sweat if I can help it. So far, though, I’ve found that if I simply pack an extra shirt I can ride in normal street clothes (e.g., khakis and a polo shirt) and easily freshen up with a shirt change and some minor ablutions when I get to the office. My commute’s only about 2.5 miles and with the breeze created by the ride I stay cooler than I thought I would. Things may change if we get into stretches of upper-90s later in the summer, though.

The most rewarding part of the experience so far has been that it’s just flat-out fun. Cycling can give you a great sense of freedom and grace as you whiz through the streets, but at the same time it’s extremely peaceful, allowing you to be present to your surroundings with multiple senses in a way that driving makes impossible. Coasting through the tree-lined streets of Capitol Hill at 7 in the morning makes for a pretty enjoyable way to start the day. How many people can say that they actually find their commute relaxing?

More on cycling, mostly links

Okay, maybe the hottest day of the year (so far) wasn’t the most opportune moment to start biking to work regularly. But I got my shiny new Capital Bikeshare key in the mail over the weekend and couldn’t resist trying it out. I’ve also finally found a route that’s both efficient and bike-friendly.

Anyway, I’ve been poking around the Internet a bit looking for articles and other resources on biking, and thought I’d share a few.

First, friend of the blog Russell Arben Fox has written about his biking experiences, accompanied by some of his his inimitable politico-philosophical reflections:

Cycling commuters, unite!

Cycling and the simple (socialist?) life

Russell’s posts led me to this site, and this post in particlar about cycling as a means of self-sufficiency and resistance to consumerism and “lifestyle marketing.” It also has links to a bunch of resources, advocacy sites, and cycling blogs. (In case you were wondering, there is a “slow bicycle” movement.)

Here are some other noteworthy links:

League of American Bicyclists

National Center for Bicycling and Walking

And some DC-specific links:

Commuter Connections: Bicycling

Washington Area Bicyclist Association

The Capital Bikeshare site also has some good resources on safety and exploring the area by bike.