• Tue August 12 2008
  • Posted Aug 12, 2008
Why Cycling Is to Transportation What Efficiency Is to Energy by Andrew Posner, Providence, Rhode Island on 08. 5.08 Until the recent spike in gas prices, much of the discussion about solving our transportation problems-- namely, emissions from cars and dependence on foreign oil-- centered on increasing the efficiency of the vehicles we drive through higher CAFE standards and new designs. Lately, the discussion has expanded to include the importance of public transportation, walkable cities and, to a lesser extent, cycling. However, even as alternatives to driving have become more prominent in public discourse, the fact of the matter is that people get far more excited about the Chevy Volt and the Tesla Roadster than they do about hybrid-electric buses and bicycle lanes. Shiny Cars and Solar Panels Get More Attention In much the same way, when it comes to solving our energy crisis there is always more enthusiasm for renewable energy technologies, like wind and solar, than there is for energy efficiency. When it comes down to it, fancy cars and shiny solar panels are just sexier than riding a bicycle and installing triple-glazed windows. At the same time, cycling- -which is the most efficient form of transportation--and energy efficiency, are by far the cheapest means of addressing a wide range of issues, from climate change, to congestion to high energy prices. Cycling is an Overlooked Solution In fact, even compared to mass transit, cycling requires less road maintenance (and hence taxpayer money), takes up less space, and results in far less emissions and noise. Indeed, cycling saves Australia $200 million a year in health care costs alone. And when it comes to energy- efficiency, as Amory Lovins likes to point out, the cheapest kilowatt-hour or gallon of fuel is the one you don't have to buy. That is why it seems to me that cycling is to transportation what efficiency is to energy: an overlooked, inexpensive solution to a pervasive problem. Let's Include Cost Effective Approaches Now I want to be clear: I am not saying that we shouldn't be emphasizing efficient cars and renewable energy. On the contrary, I love all those things and am drawn in by their sexiness as much as any lover of technology. And mass transit is essential, as it compliments networks of bike lanes and paths, and provides transportation to those that cannot afford or choose not to drive a car. Instead, my argument is that we've got to keep in mind the importance of those approaches that are simplest and most cost- effective. Energy-efficiency has at least come to be something that all politicians have to mention as part of any comprehensive energy plan. Even then, most people vastly underestimate the amount of inefficiency in our economy. Given that paradigm, it isn't surprising that cycling is rarely mentioned as a serious solution to transportation issues, and is actually often ridiculed. In part, I think it's because we have become spoiled by a car culture made possible by cheap energy. But just as importantly, the cost- effectiveness of cycling is almost entirely ignored. After all, how many forms of transportation are truly zero emissions, lower health care costs, create better communities, and require so little infrastructure? So as we ponder how we are going to deal with energy prices, climate change, dependence on foreign oil and unlivable cities, let's make sure we incentivize the low hanging fruits of efficiency and cycling in order to offset the higher costs of renewable energy, mass transit, and advanced vehicle infrastructure.

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