Blaine Harden has a great article in today's Washington Post about the place of the bicycle in modern transportation policy and infrastructure.
Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have been connecting the dots for three decades. They started in the mid-1970s, in the wake of the world's first oil shock and after 25 years of American-style, car-centric traffic management that had coincided with a sharp decline in cycling.
There is now an integrated system of safe bicycling routes in most cities in all three countries. It allows cyclists to go almost everywhere on paths that are separated from automobiles and in "traffic-calmed" neighborhoods. Besides pampering cyclists, these countries punished drivers with fees and restrictions intended to make commuting by car expensive, slow and frustrating.
The policies have resulted in the developed world's highest per-capita rates of cycling and lowest rates of cycling accidents, the Rutgers study found.
On a recent trip to The Netherlands, I was amazed by the fantastic bicycle culture made possible by the well planned and executed infrastructure throughout the nation. This was a far cry from the transportation culture of Texas, where I was raised. There it is not uncommon for one to drive a car from one's garage to the store down the street to buy a single grocery item.
Most American cities are not only inconvenient for bicycles, they are hostile. During the 20th century, Americans began to equate car purchases as not just a symbol of economic status, but as a right of citizenship. Bicycles are still viewed by most Americans as a toy, as is easily established when bicycle shopping. Yes, there are many high-end recreational bicycles, but they are still recreational, still toys.
Finding a sturdy commuter bicycle or utility bicycle in the US is difficult in all but a few locations. And only in Portland, that I know of, can one purchase anything as utilitarian as a Bakfiets. And commuting by bicycle is still considered an eccentric behavior, despite the fact (or perhaps because of it) that it's far more civilized. From aesthetics to health benefits to environmental impact, intracity bicycling is superior to car culture in every way.
American transportation policy has too long subsidized automobile and related industries in an effort to artificially buttress the American economy. But this policy is not sustainable, and the house of cards is beginning to fall. What better time to take a leadership role and embrace what Europeans are already finding to be a superior form of city transport?