It was heartening to read Ted Lux’s editorial (“Peddling a Bike-Friendly L.A.” in the Aug. 10 issue) calling for more bicycling and the infrastructure to support it here in Los Angeles. As one who has been promoting the bicycle as transportation for more than 12 years, and riding to work, shopping, to doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and what have you in Los Angeles for more than 40 years, I’d like to add a somewhat extended footnote to Lux’s excellent article.
The environmental benefits of practical cycling are well known – not only do bicycles use no fuel, they require very little space for parking and for travel. While it seems paradoxical that cycling groups are asking for infrastructure that requires yet more paving, in the long run, more cycling will lessen the demand for the far more extensive acres of asphalt that cars require, thereby saving the city money.
Likewise for health: Though many fear cycling, statistics show that it is no more dangerous than driving in the United States. (In Northern Europe, it is less dangerous than driving!) And the increase in cardiovascular and psychological health resulting from cycling (or walking, of course) reduces public (and personal) health costs.
The bicycle is the most efficient machine ever devised, losing only 2 percent of the energy input at the pedals by the time the rubber hits the road. Nothing else even comes close.
In fact, cycling is so efficient that if you want to lose weight, walking is better – cycling uses one-third the calories per mile at four to five times the speed of shoe leather. But it is precisely this combination of speed and efficiency that makes it feasible to cycle instead of drive, when you would simply be sitting on your posterior for those same miles.
You also can carry astounding quantities of stuff on a bicycle, if you’re of a consumerist bent. I recently road-tested a Swedish cargo bike on which I carried my wife and a load of groceries that included a watermelon, for a total load of 150 pounds!
But something else happens when you ride instead of drive, something of particular interest to a city’s business community: At cycling’s transportational pace of 15 miles an hour, you find yourself much more aware of the world you inhabit – the weather, the state of the road, your neighbors, your city’s architecture, and so forth. You enrich your life by seeing things you otherwise would have missed.
And that includes stores. For it turns out that cycling does more than save the world and enrich your soul: It can save economies and enrich your business community.
Our northern rival recently discovered this, thanks to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s On-Street Parking Management and Pricing Study. To quote a recent report: “The SFCTA study looked in depth at parking issues in four San Francisco neighborhoods – Cow Hollow, West Portal, Hayes Valley and Bernal Heights. The study surveyed parking availability, parking turnover, and parking duration, and interviewed merchants and residents. Among the study’s findings were that both businesses and residents were willing to pay more for parking in return for greater availability, and that while merchants in the four neighborhoods thought that 72 percent of their customers ‘drove exclusively’ to the neighborhood, over 70 percent of their customers walked, cycled, or took transit.” (For the complete article, with links to data, see: www.livablecity.org/campaigns/parking.html.)
A study in Toronto, reviewing the feasibility of removing parking to make room for bike lanes on that city’s Bloor Street, discovered that pedestrians and cyclists not only comprised the majority of visitors to the Annex neighborhood’s local merchants, but spent more money per month and per visit than did drivers or transit users.
To quote: “The general finding from this study is that pedestrians, cyclists and transit users account for the bulk of retail spending on Bloor Street West in the Annex neighborhood. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that efforts to attract more pedestrians and cyclists will have a more positive economic impact on businesses than maintaining the existing parking on the street. On this section of Bloor Street, the existing parking demand can be accommodated by a reduced number of on-street parking spaces combined with the existing off-street parking spaces.”
To read the entire (very long) report in PDF form, see tinyurl.com/bckezh.
It doesn’t hurt that cycling cultures seem to be happy and productive ones. Holland, in this recessionary year, has an unemployment rate of just 3.3 percent, and Denmark, another cycling powerhouse, of only 5.7 percent. And Denmark’s GDP per capita is $68,000, compared with $47,000 in the United States.
Cycling is just one facet of those countries’ economies, of course. But the point is, building bicycle transportation infrastructure won’t break the bank – in fact, it may help government save money, and businesses make money.
Richard Risemberg is co-editor of the urban sustainability Webzine the New Colonist, publisher and editor of a bike commuter Webzine named Bicycle Fixation and owner of a small business that designs and manufactures clothing for bicycle commuters. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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