The Economist weighs in from across the pond in this article about cycling in America. Several noteworthy trends include: overall trips have increased over the past thirty-some-odd years, showing remarkable increases in cycling across the United States over approximately the past decade. Cities are paying attention and vying for top-cycling-city ranking. Chicago is the next large city to present a very strong voice in committing to cycle tracks and an extensive bike sharing program with more than 3,000 “steeds”, reports The Economist.
From a broad perspective the increase in cycling is a great achievement. Examined more closely, however, this main increase is amongst men 25 – 64 years old, as reported in the article. There are entire demographics where the level of ridership has dropped altogether, mainly in regard to women and children. Many have posited that this is due to concerns about safety. However, in an upcoming book, City Cycling, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler argue that this is not the case at all, that cycling has actually gotten safer over the past forty years.
Taken along with this surprising report, the vast majority of trips taken in the U.S. are three miles or less; the possibilities for these trips to be converted from automotive to bicycle are great. As the nation’s (as well as that of the world) population finds it’s majority in urban settings, the incentives for nations, cities, and individuals to adopt cycling increases. “In their book, the authors claim that the health benefits of cycling far exceed the safety risks.” writes The Economist. A change toward the benefits of cycling has already been embraced by the likes of the U.S. trucking industry, which by its very nature is never going to be any less of a vehicular industry. And if cycling the entire way is not an option, there have been advances in multi-modal transit.
In the UK owning an automobile comes with many more restrictions, both civil and financial, than in the United States. America loves its cars, is the message driven home by decades of articles, media, and marketing. The Economist puts forth that until this love affair loses some its heat there will be no great sweeping changes. The incremental changes are a great leap forward. The commitment by cities and states is laudable. In the UK cycling is coupled with physical road space reduction for automobiles, and traffic calming measures. The argument hints, it takes just a bit more.
The old adage goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Here in the U.S. we have only just begun on our first step toward change with these single steps. What have you seen in your city that is indicative of change? What needs changing?