Sunday, August 31, 2008

U.S. behind in worldwide cycling boom

Hint to presidential campaigns: Develop comprehensive national cycling policy!

Still, among the world's most developed countries, a reliable recipe has emerged for making cycling a mainstream means of getting to work.

Commuters in Northern Europe have been lured out of their cars by bike lanes, secure bike parking and easy access to mass transportation. At the same time, steep automobile taxes, congestion-zone fees and go-slow rules have made inner-city driving a costly pain in the neck. In the Netherlands, where such carrot-and-stick policies have been in place for decades, 27 percent of all trips are by bike.

"It is very clear how to do this," said John Pucher, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers University and lead author of a global study of strategies that promote cycling. "It is not rocket science."

U.S. ignores bike strategies
In the United States, with the exception of a handful of cities, these strategies have been ignored. Car-centric transportation policies and suburban sprawl continue to make bicycle commuting rare, arduous and relatively dangerous. Although millions of Americans recreate on bikes, they ride them for just 0.4 percent of their trips to work, according to the U.S. Census.

Germans are 10 times more likely than Americans to ride a bike and three times less likely to get hurt while doing so. On any given workday, more commuters park their bikes at train and subway stations in Tokyo (704,000) than cycle to work in the entire United States (535,000), according to the Tokyo government and the U.S. Census.

In recent months, bike shops across much of the United States have been flooded with new customers fed up with high gasoline prices, said An Le, the Los Angeles-based global marketing director of Giant.