From Holland, and available in the US (at a price!) here are two examples of the sort of sensible bike you see by the thousands all over The Netherlands. They make a great alternative to a car for all kinds of daily tasks. The Dutch bikes shown here are from Batavus. Electra offers a tempting--and reasonably priced--clone called "The Amsterdam."
Work bikes are not meant to be fast or sporty, but they are built like tanks and will quite literally last for decades (see the Dutch "work bike" parked beside a canal in our logo at the top of this page). Note the raised handlebars, which are well above seat level, thus sparing the lower back. They have steel frames, wide tires, racks, fenders, lights and mudguards over the chain. If you want to make a bike part of your work life, this could be exactly what you need. Alan (recumbent blog) makes a persuasive argument below for such practical bikes as an alternative to the automobile for daily transportation.
Nevertheless, such bikes are rare in America. But now that gas is closing in on $4 a gallon...
Addendum: May 5==Thanks to the blogger who pointed the way to CLEVER CYCLES, a West Coast dealer for Batavus. Another blogger sent me an email in which he claims that a classic fat tire American Schwinn is every bit as good, if not better, than a Dutch bike--at a fraction of the price--at garage sales everywhere.