As oil peters out, counties stagger under the financial burdens of suburban sprawl and ever-wider freeways devolve into soul-grinding parking lots as fast as we can build them, we are beginning to realize that the time has come for a change. Western U.S. cities have typically already surrendered up to 70 percent of their land surface to cars, yet it’s never enough. We need to let people move about without forcing them to take a car with them everywhere they go.

Going forward, the cities that move people more efficiently will gain a competitive advantage over cities that are mere traffic sumps – both in drawing the best people to live, work and buy there, and in costing less in taxes to maintain.

Although mass transit is vital, we need more. It is the bicycle that deserves a particular emphasis in Los Angeles. And it is the L.A. cycling community’s hopes for a “bicycle boulevard” on Fourth Street, from Hoover Street in the east to Cochran Avenue in the west, that could seed the Bicycle Millennium in our city.

Why the bicycle? What’s in it for us?

The modern bicycle was invented around 1880, only 20 years before the car – but it is a far more efficient technology. In fact, riding a bicycle is more energy-efficient than walking, requiring one-third the calories to move its practitioner four to five times as fast, and as far, as hoofing it.

A car outweighs its passenger by a factor of 22, while a bike weighs on the average one-sixth as much as its operator – which bespeaks a savings in the energy that goes into mining, smelting and manufacturing the vehicle.

The bicycle confers health upon its users, and doesn’t burden communities with fumes or noise, or obstruct public space.

All good things, yes – but what’s in it for businesses?

A lot:

• Healthy, energized employees. Who will be more productive, someone who looks forward to their daily commute or someone who arrives prestressed by traffic jams?

• Less money spent providing parking. An on-street parking space these days costs more than $6,000; a slot in a parking structure costs from $30,000 to $70,000. If your business owns parking, you lose money. If your landlord owns it, he’ll charge you for it. If the city owns it, your taxes will go up.

• Less need for lane miles, which are expensive in more ways than one: First you build them, then you repair them, then the city loses the taxes that would have come from productive uses on that land.

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