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.

Cities are for people, not cars

At least that’s the attitude some European cities are beginning to take, according to this report from the NYT. In order to create more environmentally friendly, less congested, and more livable cities, Europeans are “creating environments openly hostile to cars.”

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.

The article notes the contrast with the U.S.:

“In the United States, there has been much more of a tendency to adapt cities to accommodate driving,” said Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. “Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.”

U.S. cities are under less pressure to make cities car-free, partly because we haven’t signed the Kyoto Protocol, which was aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re apparently not interested in meeting Clean Air Act requirements. In other words, the U.S. urban model is much less concerned with environmental and human health.

Usually this is explained as a simple difference of cultures, where freedom-loving Americans cling to their cars while those pantywaist socialist Europeans try to force everyone onto mass transit (or, God forbid, bicycles!). However, as the article notes, Europeans were on trajectory toward a more American-style model of car ownership and use, but this has been pretty successfully reversed by determined public policy.

It’s also worth pointing out that American “car culture” is not a simple result of individualism or the benevolent workings of the free market. The balance of forms of transportation has been tilted in favor of the auto by specific public policy choices like road construction, land use regulations, and building codes. These choices (not to mention our direct and indirect subsidization of the fossil fuel industry) all make it easier for Americans to choose driving. The European experiment shows that different choices can lead to a different quality of life in cities.

Friday Links

–Marvin on the Presbyterian Church’s decision to allow congregations to call non-celibate gay and lesbian pastors.

–Libraries are part of the social safety net.

–“I hated vegans too, but now I am one.”

–On anti-Semites and philo-Semites.

–Mark Bittman asks, “Why bother with meat?”

–Jesus and eco-theology.

–Jeremy discusses Herbert McCabe and Gerhard Forde on the Atonement.

–Your commute is killing you.

–Rowan Williams’ Ascension Day sermon: “The friends of Jesus are called … to offer themselves as signs of God in the world.”

–Grist’s “great places” series continues with two posts on the industrial food system and its alternatives.

–Keith Ward on his recent book More than Matter?

–Russell Arben Fox on the Left in America.

–The Cheers challenge. My wife and I have already been rewatching the entire series. We’re on season 6 now, which replaces Shelley Long’s Diane with Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows, although the earlier seasons are probably the best ones.

–Ozzy’s first two solo albums, which are generally considered classics, have gotten the deluxe reissue treatment. Here’s a review.

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.

Friday links

–Ta-Nehisi Coates on Moby-Dick.

–Amy-Jill Levine: “A Critique of Recent Christian Statements on Israel

–From Jeremy at Don’t Be Hasty: Why the church can’t take the place of the welfare state.

–A discussion of “summer spirituality” with Fr. James Martin, S.J., author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

–A review of Keith Ward’s recent book More than Matter?

Lady Gaga: “Iron Maiden changed my life.”

–Grist’s David Roberts has been writing a series on “great places” as a reorienting focus for progressive politics: see the first installments here, here, and here. Also see this reflection from Ned Resnikoff.

–Four different demo versions of Metallica’s early tune “Hit the Lights” (with some, ahem, interesting vocal experimentation by a young James Hetfield).

The cycling life

Grist has a really good article on DC’s popular new(ish) bikeshare program, arguing that a “bikeshare system can make fundamental change happen in a city.” Also see this article: “The Real Reason Why Bicycles Are the Key to Better Cities.”

I used Capital Bikeshare for the first time the other day and thought it was great. Over the last 3-and-a-half years I’ve typically walked to work, but our new place is a bit farther from my office, requiring about a 45-minute jaunt. Using the bikeshare though, I can hop on a bike at a station one block from our house and be at work in under half an hour. I hadn’t been on a bike in nearly 10 years and had forgotten how much fun it is.

Friday Links

–Ludwig von Mises versus Christianity.

–20-plus years of Willie Nelson’s political endorsements.

–The media has stopped covering the unemployement crisis.

–The Stockholm Syndrome theory of long novels.

–An interview with Edward Glaeser, author of Triumph of the City.

–Why universal salvation is an evangelical option.

–A debate over Intelligent Design ensares an academic journal of philosophy.

–Goodbye birtherism, hello “otherism“?

–Chain restaurants try to adapt to the classic-cocktail renaissance.

–Everything you need to know about the apocalypse.