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Let’s Bike More

Paul Kando

Did you realize that pedaling a bicycle uses less energy per passenger mile (0.045 kWh) than any other form of transportation, even including walking (0.09 kWh)? But energy consumption is only part of the story. Bicycles are becoming popular as an increasingly urban population attempts to untangle traffic jams, clean up polluted skies, seek affordable transportation and avoid diseases caused by physical under-activity and billowing greenhouse gases.

Many Bicycles
Bikes in Amsterdam
photo credit: Ortablu.com

Most of Europe was bicycle-friendly throughout much of the twentieth century. Then, after World War II and into the 1960s cities and towns became polluted and congested with car traffic. Citizens began to push back, reclaiming much of the countryside for biking.. Copenhagen is considered the most livable city in the world, in no small measure because it is the most bike-friendly. 30% of the locals bike to work, school, and market on miles of bike lanes, including three “bicycle superhighways” that connect the city to its outlying suburbs. Twenty-three more such bike-highways are currently under construction.

Proper infrastructure is essential for supporting safe, pleasant, and abundant bicycle use, be it in urban areas or in tourist-destinations like Maine. I mean networks of well-lit, tree-lined bike lanes or bike paths — the more level, direct, and interconnected they are the better. Bicycles and cars must meet at well-designed intersections and roundabouts. There should be easy access to public transportation, secure bike parking and workplace showers. Programs and policies should complement physical infrastructure, with educational initiatives targeting cyclists and motorists alike and liability laws protecting bike riders.

Today in the Netherlands 27% of local trips are done by bicycle, and 18% in Denmark, with zero emissions — in the US just 1%. Among the hopeful signs: between 2000 and 2012, bike commuting grew 60% in places like Portland Oregon, where infrastructure investment is high. Given that 40% of urban car trips nationwide are less than 2 miles in length, many could be made by bike.

Of course infrastructure is key: The more provision is made for bicycles, the more riders there will be and the safer they will be. And more bicycles bring big returns on public investment, including the health benefits of cleaner air and greater physical activity.

Someday in the future could tourists coming to our Midcoast by train, (relieving pressure to expand the Maine turnpike yet again) be met at local stations like Damariscotta-Newcastle with bike-sharing and bike rental services, ready to help them explore new bike paths on our peninsulas without having to share the road with cars and trucks?

Worldwide, in 2014, 5.5% of all trips were made by bicycle. In some metro areas bicycles accounted for over 20% of traffic. By 2050 , Paul Hawken’s Drawdown Project foresees bike trips globally displacing 2.2 trillion passenger miles traveled by motorized modes of transportation and avoiding 2.3 gigatons of CO2 emissions. By building bike infrastructure rather than more roads, governments and taxpayers can realize $400 billion in savings over 30 years, and $2.1 trillion in lifetime savings.