Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"You better ride, ride, ride, ride/Ride, ride ride awaaaaay": David Byrne talks up cycling's future

The cover of Pedaling Revolution. Image found here.

Over at Front Porch Republic, fellow Wichitan (and bike-commuter) Russell Arben Fox posts an excerpt from David Byrne's recent New York Times book review of Jeff Mapes' book, Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities. (Thanks, Russell, for plugging good old Cycling in Wichita in your post, and welcome, visitors from Front Porch Republic, to our front porch.) This is a new-to-me book, but it appears to be getting good reviews; furthermore, as Byrne reports, even though it at times appears to preach to the already-converted, it has material in it to ease the already-converted's efforts to evangelize to the whatever cycling's equivalent of the unchurched would be. And the price is right.

Of course, you should read the whole thing. But below, I've selected some passages in which Byrne, who says he has used a bicycle as his primary transportation in New York City for the past 30 years, surveys from his particular long view of things cycling's present and likely future:
Mapes finds the experience of riding around Portland [Oregon]— North America’s most bike-friendly city (though I think Vancouver is close) — so enjoyable that he takes as a given that it’s a positive thing, something that more communities should accommodate without question. But as he and I know, there’s a lot of opposition. The United States is as much a car culture as ever, even if the companies that helped make us that way are now in ruins. And governments and urban planners have all been in on the game, helping make the idea of cheap, effortless transportation and a car of one’s own a dream every American might aspire to.


As Mapes points out, when more women begin riding, that will signal a big change in attitude, which will prompt further changes in the direction of safety and elegance. I can ride till my legs are sore and it won’t make riding any cooler, but when attractive women are seen sitting upright going about their city business on bikes day and night, the crowds will surely follow. [Aside: Anyone who has spent any length of time at Copenhagen Cycle Chic knows Byrne knows whereof he speaks.]


Toward the end of the book, Mapes gets into debates over bike lanes (are they ­really safer?), safety rules (should cyclists have to obey stop signs?) and traffic ideologies (should cyclists claim a full space in a lane, or stick to the edge of the road?) that only an obsessive or an advocate (hello!) is likely to be interested in. But the debates he presents may end up helping us all. Greenways, safer bike lanes, pedestrian zones and bike parking places will make our cities not only more comfortable and enjoyable, but also, as Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York City transportation commissioner, said recently, more eco­nomically competitive as well, as more of them become places where people with ideas and creative ambitions want to both live and work. (Emphasis mine)
This last point may be the strongest argument cyclists and their allies have as they seek to gain the attention (and financial largess) of government officials: that bike-friendly cities are simply more desirable because more livable. I can't find it now, but a recent post at The Atlantic's website, Richard Florida noted an interesting correlation over the past year: the "greener" a city, the less the fall in housing values in that city. Translation: People want to live in places like that if at all possible. Property values remain higher in such places (translation: higher tax revenues). Relatively modest investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure are one way--and certainly not the only way--a city like ours can secure a brighter future in an economy that is going to change whether we're ready for it or not.

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