Here’s a thing I wrote for The Cycling Independent. I liked it and I believe it, so….
If you’re a Paceline listener, much of what I’m about to say will sound familiar to you. It’s an immodest proposal, one that puts the bicycle at the center of a lot of different issues. And of course, it’s the sort of thing a lifelong cyclist would write. As I think about where we are collectively, though, I struggle to understand how the bike is NOT the solution, how it is NOT central to our thinking about the way forward.
First, at the end of two years of global pandemic, our mental health is a shambles. Anxiety and depression are rampant. Cycling is a non-invasive treatment for these conditions. Obviously, some people will find riding a bike anxiety-inducing, but for the most part, people who rides bikes will feel less anxious and less depressed.
Second, we all had our hopes raised, as lockdowns swept the land, that the pandemic might abate the worst contributors to global warming. There were sporadic articles and studies that made this case. Less driving is better, etc., etc. And people were riding bikes more. Demand for bikes skyrocketed. People were out and about. However, I think it’s safe to say that as things opened back up, driving and traffic also returned, maybe not quite to pre-pandemic levels, but we certainly went backwards in terms of car-related air pollution. The bike, of course, is one strong solution for that problem.
Third, there is inequality. The haves have and the have nots, well, it’s right there in the name. Bicycle transportation gives low income people access to work, to recreation, to health, to all sorts of opportunities that they might not have because they don’t have a car, or public transportation doesn’t serve these specific needs, which brings me to…
Fourth, public transportation is in perennial crisis. Cities struggle to fund it properly. Fares are going up and up, and trains and buses struggle to meet all our needs for moving around our cities. It’s important, but maybe we want more from it than it can give. Even, public/private partnerships that have put city bikes on the street miss that last mile of convenience and opportunity for people that only comes from having their own bike.
Having said all that, and understanding that I’m preaching, I hope, to the choir, it seems painfully obvious to me that we need a national public health campaign to promote cycling and an easy to access tax-rebate for people to invest in cycling for themselves. They’ve done this in the UK with massive success. In fact, across Europe these kinds of incentives are already working to get more people out of cars and onto bikes.
Cycling is such a powerful solution to so many of our biggest problems right now, that I feel really confused about why we don’t have any sort of campaign to shift the national consciousness toward cycling transportation.
And look, I’m as cynical as anyone. I understand the challenges, logistically, financially and culturally. I get it. We’re a car culture. We don’t spend money on healthcare. We are fiercely opposed to being told what to do. But just as public health campaigns (and tax policy) massively reduced the number of people who smoke cigarettes, the case for promoting cycling is so straightforwardly easy to make, the mind boggles that we’ve sat by and done nothing.