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Countries that have well-developed urban transit systems and a mature bicycle infrastructure are much better positioned to withstand the stresses of a downturn in world oil production than are countries whose only transport option is the car.

With a full array of walking and biking options, the number of trips by car can easily be cut by 10–20 percent. The bicycle, a form of personal transportation, has many attractions. It alleviates congestion, lowers air pollution, reduces obesity, increases physical fitness, does not emit climate-disrupting carbon dioxide, and has a price within reach for the billions of people who cannot afford an automobile.  

Bicycles increase mobility while reducing congestion and the area of land paved over. Six bicycles can typically fit into the road space used by one car. For parking, the advantage is even greater, with 20 bicycles occupying the space required to park a car.

The bicycle is not only a flexible means of transportation; it is an ideal way of restoring a balance between caloric intake and expenditure. The opportunity to exercise is valuable in its own right. Regular exercise of the sort provided by cycling to work reduces cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis and it strengthens the immune system. 

Few methods of reducing carbon emissions are as effective as substituting a bicycle for a car on short trips. A bicycle is a marvel of engineering efficiency, one where an investment in 22pounds of metal and rubber boosts the efficiency of individual mobility by a factor of three. On my bike I estimate that I get easily 7 miles per potato.

An automobile, which requires at least a ton of material to transport one person, is extraordinarily inefficient by comparison. The capacity of the bicycle to provide mobility for low income populations was dramatically demonstrated in China.In 1976, this country produced 6 million bicycles.

After the reforms in 1978 that led to an open market economy and rapidly rising incomes, bicycle production started climbing, reaching close to 70 million in 2006. The surge to 500 million bicycle owners in China since 1978 provided the greatest increase in human mobility in history. Bicycles took over rural roads and city streets.

Although China’s 9 million passenger cars, and the urban congestion they cause, get a lot of attention, it is bicycles that provide personal mobility for hundreds of millions of Chinese.Many cities are turning to bicycles for various uses.

In the United States, nearly 75 percent of police departments serving populations of 50,000 or more now have routine patrols by bicycle. Officers on bikes are more productive in cities partly because they are more mobile and can reach the scene of an accident or crime more quickly and more quietly than officersin cars.

They typically make 50 percent more arrests per day than officers in squad cars. Fiscally, the cost of operating a bicycle is trivial compared with that of a police car. Bicycle messenger services are common in the world’s larger cities simply because they deliver small parcels more quickly than cars can and at a lower cost.

As e-commerce expands, the need for quick, reliable, urban delivery services is escalating. For Internet marketing firms, quick delivery wins more customers.In New York an estimated 300 bicycle messenger firms compete for $700 million worth of business annually.

The key to realizing the potential of the bicycle is to create a bicycle-friendly transport system. This means providing both bicycle trails and designated street lanes for bicycles. Among the industrial-country leaders in designing bicycle-friendly transport systems are the Dutch, the Danes, and the Germans.

The Netherlands, the unquestioned leader among industrial countries in encouraging bicycle use, has incorporated a vision of the role of bicycles into a Bicycle Master Plan. In addition to creating bike lanes and trails in all its cities, the system also often gives cyclists the advantage over motorists in right-of-way and at traffic lights. Some traffic signals permit cyclists to move out before cars.

Roughly 30 percent of all urban trips in theNetherlands are on bicycle. This compares with 1 percent in the United States. Within the Netherlands, a nongovernmental group called Interface for Cycling Expertise (I-ce) has been formed to share the Dutch experience in designing a modern transport system that prominently features bicycles.

It is working with groups in Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, India, Kenya, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Uganda to facilitate bicycle use. Roelof Wittink, head of I-ce, observes, “If you plan only for cars then drivers will feel like the King of the Road.

This reinforces the attitude that the bicycle is backward and used only by the poor.But if you plan for bicycles it changes the public attitude.” Both the Netherlands and Japan have made a concerted effort to integrate bicycles and rail commuter services by providingbicycle parking at rail stations, making it easier for cyclists to commute by train.

In Japan, the use of bicycles for commuting to rail transportation has reached the point where some stations have invested in vertical, multi-level parking garages for bicycles, much as is often done for automobiles.

The combination of rail and bicycle, and particularly their integration into a single, overall transport system, makes a city eminently more livable than one that relies almost exclusively on private automobiles. Noise, pollution, congestion, and frustrationare all lessened. We and  the earth are both healthier.

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