The bicycle is the most energy efficient form of transportation, using about 100 watts of energy to travel at 20 mph. It’s also healthier than being sedentary in an auto, and more convivial than being sealed in a pod. 67% of U.S. petroleum consumption is for transportation, 60% of which is in private cars, and 79% of those trips are single occupancy.
The most promising means to reduce single-occupancy automobile use and emissions are: electric vehicles (EVs) whose batteries become storage capacity for a solar electric grid, mass transit, and bicycle transportation. The first two aren’t typically the object of policy activism. EV popularity is more a matter of price than policy action, though Sustainability Action has advocated for neighborhood electric vehicles that are ideal for in-town use, but are banned in some jurisdictions for safety reasons because they “go too slow”. Mass transit also is a travel mode that is more dependent on a minimum population density than on citizen action, though fare subsidies are often a social justice issue.
On the other hand, bicycle transportation is firmly in the realm of public advocacy. Indeed for most potential bicyclists, it is completely dependent on public advocacy. While about 8% of the population is brave enough to ride among 4000lb, 45 mph cars with only a helmet and light, about 71% consider it too dangerous even though they would like to ride.
Only the city government has the authority to build safe and convenient bikeways. It requires citizen advocacy to get them to do it. The operative decisions don’t happen by writing bicycle plans, but rather at city budget hearings. Sustainability Action began the push in Lawrence to establish an annual budget line-item to fund bicycle lanes, tracks, and boulevards. In four year’s time, several other organizations have joined in, and city funding has gone from $0 to $650,000 a year. Remaining efforts will focus on ensuring that bikeways are located where they conveniently serve identified needs, and are designed properly so they are safe and appealing.