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What’s Missing

I just finished reading the Obama administration’s report titled “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.” Sadly, there is one word missing from an otherwise well thought out plan. That word is “bicycles.”

Now to be fair, the report does include the need for better urban planning to get people out of their cars, and past energy statements from the administration have included walking and bicycling as ways to conserve fossil fuels. Even First Lady Michelle Obama’s task force on childhood obesity included cycling and walking in their report, especially with the Safe Routes to Schools program.

Still, it would have been nice to have included bicycle planning in the 44-page report that has a lot to say about creating electric and biofuel vehicles, as well as increasing mileage on gasoline engines. The administration has shown support for bikes. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has spoken to bike advocacy groups and written of his support on his blog. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is also a regular bike rider. Maybe, the administration was assuming it has done enough to promote cycling. Or maybe the White House is worried the Blueprint would not be taken seriously if it specifically mentioned bicycles. Congressional Republicans have ridiculed past attempts to include bicycles in transit projects. To add bikes to the Blueprint may appear looney to some, but that is exactly why they need to be included. Bicyclists are a growing political constituency that is anything but looney. We are changing how our country lives and travels.

This cycling grassroots movement is well documented in Jeff Mapes Pedaling Revolution that details the rise of cycling in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.  There are a number of specific bike-friendly ideas that could be added to the Blueprint.

Bicycle Boulevards
People will ride more if they feel safe. A bicycle boulevard is not a street free of cars. It is a street with fewer cars traveling at slower speeds. Barriers are created so that bicycles have preference for the entire route. That may mean right-turn only intersections for cars or bridges where only bikes and pedestrians may cross. That way car traffic is limited to those living in the neighborhood, and those who want to get across town as quickly as possible must take other routes.
Secure Bike Parking
People will ride more if they know their bikes are safe and secure when they are parked. This could include bike parking stations at places of employment or transit stations. Individual bike lockers could be rented by the hour. Conveniently located bike racks on the street would encourage bike use for quick shopping trips in commercial districts.
Safe Routes to School
The administration could just copy and paste that section from the First Lady’s report on childhood obesity. Getting more children walking and biking to school creates a win-win situation. Children are more likely to get injured when their parents drive them in their cars. Walking or biking becomes safer when there are fewer cars trying to drop off children at school. Children are at great risk for diabetes and obesity from lack of exercise. Gas is conserved, and carbon emissions are reduced. Make that a win-win-win-win-win.
Safe Routes to Transit
Rapid transit increases the range of a person on bike. This includes the person who wants to leave a bike parked at the transit station or one who takes a bike on train or bus. Bike racks on buses and areas set aside for bikes on train cars allow people to continue their travel on bike after getting off transit. This would increase ridership on high-speed rail. It is a lot easier to take a bike on a train than on a plane.

As the Blueprint notes in several sections, there is no “one size fits all solution.” Bicycling alone will not end our dependence on foreign oil, but neither will electric cars or wind turbines.

Back to the Future
Nor are bicycles a step backwards. Technological advances in materials have made bicycles lighter and stronger. They have always been the most energy efficient form of transportation, and they are even more efficient now. The bicycles of the future onboard the trains of the future can help us “Win the Future.”

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April 3, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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