A row of bike taxis parked on a curb in San Diego, CA.© Getty Images
San Francisco is also home to a monthly event called Critical Mass, in which thousands of bicycle riders take to the streets, many of them in colorful costumes. "We wanted to celebrate the bike and dominate the streets for a change," said one spokesman for the loosely organized group. Police broke up a 5,000-strong Critical Mass ride in 1997, and arrested 100 people for blocking traffic, but there were ultimately no convictions. In 1999, state judge Sue Kaplan ruled that the arrests were illegal, and Critical Mass has operated without harassment since then.
People are finding innovative uses for bicycles. Joan Stein and Jim Gregory own and operate the pedal-power Fresh Aire Delivery Service in the small town of Ames, Iowa. Fresh Aire has transported furniture, lumber, even a children’s playhouse. No less than two bicycle delivery services were launched in Berkeley, California, run by Pedal Express and Berkeley Youth Alternatives.
The Colorado-based Bicycle Transportation Systems (BTS) has an idea that makes a crazy kind of sense, combining pedal power with an innovation in mass transit. It’s a kind of two-way tunnel in which bike riders are pushed along by a constantly moving column of air, reducing air resistance and allowing speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. The company claims its system is 90 percent more efficient than normal cycling, and bikers can travel six miles with the energy it would otherwise take to travel one. The system can reportedly be used to move freight as well as bike riders, but it would require an expensive and fully enclosed dedicated bikeway. Only a city intensely dedicated to bicycle transportation would even think of building such a corridor.
Bike racks are sprouting up all over. According to the International Bicycle Fund, 3,000 have recently been installed in Santa Cruz, California, and 1,600 in Seattle. In Portland, I saw some ingenious bike lockers, which make the enclosed bicycle nearly impossible to steal.
Perhaps it says something about America that our anti-car campaigns are couched in the positive rhetoric of encouraging the open-air sport of bicycling. Like motherhood, bicycling is very hard to oppose, even though our traffic regulations discriminate regularly. The rock band bicycle (with a small "b"), led by bike activist Kurt Liebert, toured from Portland, Maine, to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2000 entirely by bike.
Bikes on a ferry.
If we want to tackle our fuel dependence and carbon emissions head-on, we need to encourage the responsible use of public transportation on a national scale. Back in Connecticut, Stowe spoke of a movement to convince Congress to implement a high-speed rail service from coast to coast, as well as another line stretching across the Southern regions of the U.S.
If this is achieved, shorter high-speed rail corridors and commuter rail lines would easily feed off these larger lines, making train travel more accessible and efficient across the nation. Stowe predicts that this will have a positive effect on the fuel dependence and energy waste engendered by suburban sprawl.
So where do we go from here? In terms of the local struggle, Stowe suggests contacting New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell to advocate the removal of bicycle permits and restrictions during peak hours. Reducing our carbon footprint can start at the individual level, but in the end, it requires a greater structural change. A solution may be found in improving access for both bicycle commuters and their non-biking counterparts on the railways.
CONTACT: National Association of Railroad Passengers
JULIA HIRSCH is a student at Vassar College and an intern at E.
JIM MOTAVALLI is the editor of E.