2004/06/23

Bicycles are the answer

Bicycles are one of the best things ever. They're a joy to ride, good exercise, and give you great mobility (in Chicago biking is faster than the el up to maybe 12km / 7-8mi). And most important they solve all the problems of cars: air pollution, global warming, huge amounts of space taken over by roads and parking lots, encouraging sprawl, killing people right and left, breaking down all the time, &c, &c.

Of course bikes have important limitations: they're bad for transporting stuff, they're not much fun in winter and rain, they're not too desirable for distances past about 15km, and as long as cars are so dominant, they're dangerous to ride on the street. But if we built our cities around bikes and public transit instead of around cars, most of these issues would be mitigated or eliminated.

It's just not that hard to imagine cities that could function well without any privately-owned cars. Think about it: a multi-branch light rail system running high-speed expresses and local lines. An efficient public bus system running on main arterials. a few roads devoted to emergency vehicles, freight-moving trucks, and trucks that deliver heavier items directly to people. Other streets given over to bikes, rollerbladers, and pedestrians.

It's true that such a city would mean more walking and occasionally less convenience. (Tho more walking is probably a benefit considering what sedentary life has done to most people's health.) But the improvements in city life would be huge. First, we'd save huge amounts of money. Right now local and state taxes heavily subsidize the costs of cars: roadbuildng and maintenance, parking lots, dealing with pollution, emergency costs associated with accidents. (Compared to these costs, subsidies for public transit and biking are currently miniscule, and even at this inadequate level they are often better choices.) Plus, individual car owners pay thousands to buy their cars, repair them, pay for parking, &c. All of these costs would be eliminated.

We would reclaim huge amounts of wasted space. Roads, parking lots, and street parking often take up 25 percent or more of urban space, and even then parking can be extremely tight. Imagine how many more public parks we could have, or how many trees we could plant. Imagine what we could do with all the space occupied by eyesores like gas stations and parking lots.

But the most important benefits would be better health, fewer deaths, and environmental protection. Air pollution from cars makes us all sicker, with unknown longterm effects on our health, and helps cause the asthma so many children suffer from. Car accidents kill tens of thousands every year just in the United States, and cause over 3 million injuries (think about the hysteria if Al Qaeda were capable of such devastation). And cars are the single biggest source of greenhouse gases, whose buildup will cause an environmental catastrophe if we don't change things soon. These problems would all be significantly improved if we made our cities friendly to bikers and walkers and made public transit the prime mode of transportation.

Instead we build ever more roads — and fewer sidewalks. We subsidize driving to no end, but can't be bothered to build even a handful of bike lanes. Public transit, where it exists, languishes low among budget priorities. And we're all driven to rage just trying to drive a few miles in congestion. How much road rage do you see among bus passengers?

We have a choice: change now, or try to pick up the pieces when our currently unsustainable systems collapse.

4 comments:

Rob said...

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/03/22/tech/main504436.shtmlhttp://www.cgfi.org/materials/articles/2003/nov_5_03.htmhttp://www.citizenreviewonline.org/july_2003/sorry.htmhttp://www.lewrockwell.com/mcmaken/mcmaken55.html

suibhne said...

A few points in response to Mssr. Rob:

1. EVEN IF you ignore scientific consensus (which is routinely skewed by maintream science journalism's insistence on presenting exactly 2 sides to every story) on global warming, and cherry-pick your favorite sources to bolster your view that global warming isn't substantially human-caused, it's important to note the concomitant effect of destroying the world's carbon sinks. In other words, EVEN IF you believe that we're not ADDING CO2 to the air in any geologically significant quantities, it's impossible to argue (coherently) that we aren't dramatically undermining the planet's ability to retire even naturally-occurring CO2 as part of a healthy carbon cycle (by massively deforesting N. and S. America, Africa, and Asia, for example, or by decimating the population of oceanic algae through pollution).

2. EVEN IF you ignore scientific consensus and believe that there's no carbon imbalance in the current world system, it's impossible to argue (coherently) that we aren't being poisoined by fossil fuel burning in many other ways. Forget global warming; even if it didn't exist, and oil were limitless, we'd still be poisoning our air and water beyond all possibility of technological remediation or human adaptation.

Jake said...

A large majority of climate scientists believe global warming is happening and that it's in large part caused by humans. See this article. It's true that there are still some skeptics, but given the severity of the consequences if most scientists are right, we should be taking action now. If we keep doing things like we are now, eventually we'll know for certain, but it will also be far too late. And even if global warming doesn't happen, why avoid change when it saves us money, improves our health, kills fewer people, and allows us to reclaim urban space?

Anonymous said...

obviously i agree with you on most of these points. i'm more into the idea of increasing the efficiency/breadth of public transportation than bike usage, since i think bikes are less of an option for some people: people with a brood of kids, people with bad backs (me), people who have a hard time with cold weather (me).

since moving to nyc i've often wondered if my subway rage/worry ('ugh this train is so slow. i should have transferred at 59th, or taken the A instead, or walked from 34th' etc)is less than the road rage i would have if i lived in a city where i drove.

i think being able to walk to places is so great.i love being able to walk to the corner to buy some dr pepper, and walk an avenue more to go sit in the park as i drink it, and walk a quarter mile to the water. but that's manhattan. not everyone can live on an island...but what if we lived in smaller communities? i guess i'm just fascinated by the idea of shrinking communities. i'm in tx right now, land of distances. suburban self-isolation...

-naureen