Transportation and the Bicycle

Transportation is a vital element of life. Transportation is what allows people to accomplish a wide range of essential daily activities such as getting to work, picking up and dropping off kids, running errands, seeking medical care, and on and on. Transportation provides the structure beneath the international economy, as goods and services are transported all around the world at remarkable speeds. Transportation is deeply woven into our psyche and our behavior, and it is often something that is overlooked, taken for granted, or viewed as being some sort of natural, given right to many. Transportation has had an enormous influence on societal function and development throughout the course of human history, and it has changed the character of human interaction across space and time. When transportation services are disrupted, perhaps due to a strike or infrastructure collapse, it often results in serious consequences that reverberate far beyond their initial source. In its current manifestation, transportation is something which many people could not function without. For how would our food get to the marketplace for us to purchase? How would we get to the marketplace to purchase said food? How would we get the building materials to construct homes, workplaces, schools and more? All of these things and so much more require transportation in order to function.

Transportation is, of course, closely tied in with energy. There are many different types of transportation modes from human-powered (ie. bicycles), to animal-powered, steam-powered, combustion-powered, nuclear-powered, air-powered, water-powered, and more. Humankind has been very industrious in the transportation aspect of life because mobility is important.

Mobility: simply the state of being in motion, seems like such a simple, straightforward idea, but it is one that is immensely important to the way the world functions. Mobility as it pertains to transportation, refers to the ability to move between one place or another in order to engage in different activities. Naturally, mobility is highly dependent on settlement, or the way in which the built environment is laid out. Activities that are more spread out result in lower mobility for those who have to travel longer distances to get from place to place. Activities that are more concentrated result in higher mobility. Some people have more mobility than others, but one’s mobility is not always a personal choice, because in many places throughout the world, transportation services are not as readily available as they are in others.

Mobility is mediated by the transportation modes available and the settlement patterns of an area. For example, the most common mode of transportation for most people in the United States, is the personal automobile. However, this is not the case in many developing countries, where the most common mode may be one’s own feet. In the United States and other developed countries, the popularity of the personal automobile is due in part to the way the built environment has developed, the influence of the automobile industry, globalization, government legislation, cultural trends, and more. However, despite the history and momentum behind use of the personal automobile, it is not necessarily the best mode of transportation for all situations, though it is certainly useful for some. Nonetheless, it is usually chosen above all other modes (such as walking, bicycling, or using public transportation) due to its perceived convenience and ease of use, as well as due to habit. For many, it’s simply habit to hop in the car for a quick trip to the store, etc., etc., but since the majority of automobile trips are between 1-5 miles (a distance easily accomplished by bicycle), it just simply isn’t more convenient to drive in many situations. It is simply habit.

Recently, many people have begun to think more carefully about transportation and its impact on our lives due in part to the environmental movement, concern over climate change, predictions about the future of energy resources, higher gasoline and energy prices, a renewed interest in localism, and more. The pieces of the puzzle are beginning to come together for many, and the “big picture”, the combined impact of all these problems is beginning to get a bit scary. And fear is often a good impetus for change. Our mobility is at risk, and so are many other facets of the life we have grown ac accustomed to. Movements like the Slow Food Movement, the 100-mile Diet, Community Supported Agriculture, and others have had a significant impact on notions of how we get our food and how the food system is deeply intertwined with transportation. Alternative transportation movements, such as One Less Car, One Street, Ride Local, and many others are also receiving attention as we begin to understand the scope of transportation and the personal automobile’s impact on the planet. The word sustainability has become mainstream and businesses all over the world are trying to “Go Green” or at least act like they are.

But the reality of the situation is that “Going Green” takes much, much more than simply buying a hybrid, or eating organically grown foods, or planting a garden. “Going Green” -and meaning it- requires a change of lifestyle. In order to truly “Go Green”, we need to revamp the way we live, and obviously, one of the major components that needs to be revamped is the transportation component. And in my opinion, the solution, or at least an important part of the solution, seems so obvious, so simple, so pleasurable, so refreshing.

The bicycle. The bicycle is an efficient, effective, economically-friendly, healthy, fun mode of transportation. A bicycle is easy to operate. It does not emit pollutants or greenhouse gases (other than the minimal amount emitted by a rider). A bicycle is very useful within urban environments for short trips. A bicycle can carry s
ignificant loads
. A bicycle provides a rider with a great deal of personal mobility. In short, a bicycle is a very useful mode of transportation, and one that is often as overlooked as the concept of transportation itself.

But why? Why the resistance or lack of acknowledgment of the bicycle? When queried, many people cite factors that prevent them from using a bicycle such as traffic, safety, distance, weather, lack of proper facilities for cyclists, time constraints, lack of energy, and more. Many of these so-called problems are easily solved with a little restructuring of one’s daily routine, but it is the intangible factors, which are generally not cited, that may actually be the more powerful limiters, such as fear of being seen, fear of public places, social biases against cyclists – who are seen as the “other”, bias against cyclists and pedestrians within the built environment, and more. But many of these intangible limiters, which are more subconscious than conscious, are socially constructed and not at all inherent in the practice of cycling, be it for utility, recreation, or sport.

Yet, it is interesting to note that the concept of using a bicycle for transportation is in no ways a new concept. Bicycles graced the streets of many cities before the automobile, and it is high time that they made a comeback. In fact, their comeback may be essential to maintaining the degree of mobility to which many are accustomed. Transportation and mobility are not given, inherent rights, as many believe, but unlike the personal automobile, the bicycle does have the potential to make transportation and mobility more accessible to many throughout the world (here in the US and abroad). Yes, it will require a change in behavior for more people to take up the bicycle as a mode of transportation. It will also require a change in the way laws treat cyclists, in the ways transportation infrastructure is engineered, in the ways bicycles are engineered, and even in the ways cyclists behave. And although change can be a bit scary, it can also be exciting. So at the very least, we encourage everyone to give it a try. It is time to begin to rethink our personal mobility.

In terms of the bicycle as a mode of transportation, we will look more closely at the following topics:

  • Bike Commuting
  • Bike Route Mapping
  • Bike Sharing
  • Cyclists and the Law
  • Bike Policy
  • Bicycle and Driver Education
  • Cycling Infrastructure
  • The Bike Industry and Transportation Bikes
  • Kids and Cycling

If you are interested in any one of these topics or can suggest more that are applicable to the bicycles as transportation category, please let us know in the comments section of this post. We look forward to hearing from you and to making the bicycle a popular mode of transportation!

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