Bicycling in China, the Twin Cities, and the Senate

Bicycling has been in the news a lot this week. E&E News reports that China is trying to get people back onto bicycles in an attempt to address traffic problems. The city of Zhongshan has launched a bike-sharing system with 4,000 bikes; Hangzhou and Shanghai have systems with 50,000 and 19,000 bikes, respectively. Reporter Coco Liu contrasts these figures to the US's largest bike-sharing program: DC's, with 1,100 bikes. (Read my earlier post on Capital Bikeshare here.) Even with such relatively large systems, though, demand can quickly outstrip supply, as when a train full of homeward-bound commuters opens its doors and a sprint for the bike racks begins.

In the US, cycling doesn't get quite so much love.

The Star Tribune reports that an increase in bicycling in the Twin Cities could save lives and medical dollars. Jonathan Patz of University of Wisconsin's Global Health Institute and his co-authors estimated both the health and environmental impacts that would result from Twin Cities residents using bicycles rather than cars for short trips (those of up to five miles) on the 124 best weather days of the year. The savings for the Twin Cities alone would be $57 million in medical costs and nearly 300 deaths prevented. Reporter Josephine Marcotty notes that the area is already experiencing some bike-related health benefits, since cycling has increased by 33% in Minneapolis since 2007, largely thanks to federal grants to build bike trails, lanes, and racks.

Such federal funding for bicycling infrastructure has come under repeated attack from Senate Republicans. The federal Transportation Enhancements program funds bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and it amounted to just two percent of highway spending in the past year. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was the third Senator in two months to try to eliminate the funding; his amendment would have diverted all Transportation Enhancement funds into bridge repair. Streetsblog's Tanya Snyder points out two problems with this approach: 1) increased cycling decreases driving, which reduces wear and tear on bridges, and 2) the TE money would be a small drop in the very large bucket of cash that's needed to repair bridges. The amendment failed, and Transportation for America has posted the vote count online, if you want to see how your Senator voted.

And because I know some people have a tendency to assume that people who promote bicycling want to take their cars away, I'll just say (as I have several times before) that there are plenty of times when it makes sense to drive a car, and I'm not advocating for taking that option away from people. What advocates for multi-modal transportation want is an increase in the options -- so that people can decide whether they want to walk, bike, ride transit, or drive at any given time. Ideally, more people will walk or bike - either to their destination or to a transit stop - and the result will be improved health and decreased traffic congestion. The more we can do to make these options attractive, the better off everyone will be.

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Anyone who wants to laugh and suffer mind crushing depression should read the comments on this or any story in the Star Tribune about cycling. The venom is just overwhelming. I don't think people should be banned from driving but drivers should pay more of the cost of their driving. Here in Minnesota a lot of money from the general fund goes to roads.

By The Backpacker (not verified) on 03 Nov 2011 #permalink

"In the US, cycling doesn't get quite so much love."

That is a serious understatement. Sure, some cyclists are poor cyclists (enforcement of rules is a real problem), but that doesn't quite explain the observed level of vitriol; drivers seem to see cyclists as an existential threat. I guess it's kind of like religion: the existence of an alternative point of view is a threat to the validity of your own. I own a car, and I drive. I just don't need to more than once or twice a week. In the winter, I can let the car sit under the snow. I don't need it to get to work or do most of shopping or other errands. And I've lost 25 pounds since I started riding every day.

Yeah, I've also been alarmed at the vitriol in some of the anti-cycling comments I've read over the years. I suspect some drivers feel that anyone who's riding a bike must be criticizing the drivers' decision to get behind the wheel. Maybe we need a PR campaign with a lot of different people saying "sometimes I drive, sometimes I bike" (or walk, or take the bus, or whatever).

Yes. The private automobile is inherently evil. It is massive waste. Using all forms of energy to push around thousands of pounds of metal and plastics to surround it's occupants weighing one hundred, two hundred, three hundred pounds maybe, spewing noxious fumes into the air, putting at risk all manor of beings composed of flesh and bones. Childish vanities combined with that skillful marketing, driving the lust for the four wheel box. Long live public transportation and the bicycle...

By John Hemphill (not verified) on 06 Nov 2011 #permalink

Bicyclists killed by cars are mostly younger than people who die from heart attacks because they didn't exercise, so I wonder about net effects of bicycling on years of life lost. There are many more deaths from bike/car collisions than from collapsing bridges, even here in the Twin Cities, so allocating more money to projects that separate bikes from cars is a good idea.

The US is not setup for bikes to share the roads with vehicles. Go to China and see how things are setup. Go to Amsterdam and see how things are setup. Right now the way the infrastructure is setup in the US if you bike you have suicidal tendencies and are risking your life. Until the infrastructure is changed biking is at your own risk.

It amazes me that there are actually places in the United States which have no transit. How could you go to work if you didn't have a car?