Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pedaling Revolution

Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities
© 2009 Jeff Mapes
288 pages

That's some serious wind resistance there, buddy.

Governments across the world today are beset by problems common to all: rising fuel prices and obesity rates, the ever-present spectre of climate change, and the transportation needs of increasingly urbanized (or re-urbanizing) populations. Enter the humble bicycle: accessible to virtually everyone, regardless of age, sex, or income level; clean, quiet, and an excellent source of exercise. For too long in the United States, bicycling has been the province of a few intense racers and tourers who pride themselves on how miserable a trek they can endure. The end of the cheap oil era, however, has prompted cities to reexamine the bicycle as a means of transportation for the many, despite the car-centric nature of the American city.

Curbing car domination is not a futile hope: in the 1970s,  stirred by soaring oil prices, the Netherlands moved to discourage car use and promote cycling. The city of Amsterdam became a pioneer in modern cycling infrastructure; only Copenhagan can rival it. Both cities boast that nearly half of all trips within their cores happen via a cycle. Fittingly, then, Mapes begins with Amsterdam's story -- but the United States has its own homegrown success in Davis, California, a university town whose early growth was managed by a cycling advocate.  But Davis had it easy:  New York City and Portland, Oregon's success in creating room for cyclists in an already established urban area filled with cars is arguably more impressive.

Mapes' chapters on these cities not only demonstrate their success, but explore how they did it.  There's no authoritative source for how best to integrate bike traffic into transportation infrastructure. Approaches range from the simple (simply painting bike lanes onto existing roads) to the more involved (separate bike paths and even 'bike boulevards') -- and there are some who deny the need for bicycle infrastructure at all, harrumphing that cyclists should just learn to ride safely with auto traffic.  But more than just the built environment have to change to encourage cycling: traffic laws, like right-turn-on-red permits that allow motorists to take over pedestrian and cyclist right-of-ways, must be addressed. The book ends with a section on cycling safety, health benefits, and the important role bikes can play in raising children, and thus in creating a broader, sustainable bike culture.

Pedaling Revolution has great appeal to both cyclists and citizens concerned about the state of American cities, for whom it should prove most encouraging. The argue for cycling more is better made in The Green Metropolis, the cover of which is of a city in bodily form on a bike, but Mapes' account gives the already-converted great reason for hope, and could easily intrigue the curious to becoming part of a bicycling renaissance.

Taken from an April edition of The Selma Morning Times, 1900.


  • Copenhaganize, a blog covering cities around the world as they move toward being more bike friendly, like Amsterdam Copenhagen.
  • The Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability, David Owen
  • Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck
  • The Sprocket and Critical Transit, two podcasts hosted by urban cyclists....based in Portland, naturally. The Sprocket's tagline is 'Simplifying the Good Life'; I especially enjoy their interviews with carfree parents.

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