May 30, 2009

Former Talking Head on Current Revolution

David Byrne reviewed Jeff Mapes' book Pedaling Revolution in the New York Times. Excerpts follow; one of the things I found interesting is the matter-of-fact way that Byrne wraps up with an assumption that "creatively ambitious" people will eventually end up on bicycles.
[Jeff Mapes] argues that cycling promotion can raise society’s level of general fitness, since people exercise more when it seems less like exercise and more like something mostly enjoyable that also performs a function, like getting to work. “Bike and walking advocates,” he writes, “have been rebranding their cause as ‘active transportation,’ which manages to come off as nonthreatening to your average couch-bound American while carrying a nice touch of gravitas as well.”

Mapes finds the experience of riding around Portland — North America’s most bike-friendly city (though I think Vancouver is close) — so enjoyable that he takes as a given that it’s a positive thing... But as he and I know, there’s a lot of opposition. The United States is as much a car culture as ever, even if the companies that helped make us that way are now in ruins. And governments and urban planners have all been in on the game...

“Pedaling Revolution” is not about mountain biking… it’s not about racing, Lance Armstrong, or what kind of spandex to buy. Nor is it about the various forms of extreme biking that have arisen lately: bike jousting on specially made high-horse bikes, BMX tricks or the arcane world of fixed-gear bikes, or fixies. For decades, Americans have too often seen cycling as a kind of macho extreme sport, which has actually done a lot to damage the cause of winning acceptance for biking as a legitimate form of transportation...

As Mapes points out, when more women begin riding, that will signal a big change in attitude, which will prompt further changes in the direction of safety and elegance. I can ride till my legs are sore and it won’t make riding any cooler, but when attractive women are seen sitting upright going about their city business on bikes day and night, the crowds will surely follow.

...Greenways, safer bike lanes, pedestrian zones and bike parking places will make our cities not only more comfortable and enjoyable, but also, as Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York City transportation commissioner, said recently, more economically competitive as well, as more of them become places where people with ideas and creative ambitions want to both live and work.

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