Interesting Passage from “Pedal Power”…

I’m currently reading Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life by J. Harry Wray (thanks, Mindy, for the recommendation and stay tuned for a full review in the coming days). I came across a passage that I wanted to share with you:

“…despite the bike’s minority — possibly even fringe — status in our society, several things favor bike advocates. First, groups pushing for more bike-friendly policies are widely dispersed geographically, giving the potential to influence an array of congressmen. Second, they are well organized, as substantial effort goes into organizing and expanding local groups and connecting them. Third, by federal standards, they are not asking for much. Bicycling is so efficient that it does not take huge outlays to increase bike friendliness.

This leads to a fourth advantage: the absence of significant opposition. The kinds of changes bike advocates push for are so tiny that they mostly pass beneath the radar of the auto industry, for example. A bike lane here, bike racks there, kids riding bikes to school — such small things do not rouse the ire of potential opponents. Bike advocates hope that the cumulative effect of these changes will someday lead to significant reductions in auto usage, but each change in itself seems not to matter very much. Finally — and this advantage should not be discounted — is the transparent rightness of the cause. There are other just causes against which advocates must compete for limited dollars, and power can extort support for unrighteous causes, but the collective and individual advantages of biking are such that it is difficult to imagine a legislator opposing increased support for biking based on the merits. The other side of this coin, but equally important, is that a legislator rarely gets into trouble supporting bike growth. This is an important bargaining chip for biking interests.”

I’m convinced the author is correct — after all, this book is exhaustively researched and compiled and so far makes a great argument for the bicycle’s blooming importance in American transportation. So, if these advantages are there for bike advocates, why does it seem like we’re fighting an uphill battle? Sure, plenty of cities are getting it right — Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Davis, Louisville, NYC, etc., but so many others are behind the times. What could we, as bicycle users and armchair advocates, do to help spur these processes along? Discuss! I’ d love to hear your thoughts on this topic…


  1. Jared

    I’ve been pestering my local city government over the decision NOT to expand bike-lanes further west towards our home. Of course, I’m also considering to moving to a nearby city that is much more friendly to cyclists. Support those who support you!

  2. PJ

    I think for the most part cyclist are still a minority compared to cagers (sorry, motorcycle language). So legislators tend to pass off cycling advocacies as small interest groups. But as I have been witnessing (me being one of them) more and more people in Honolulu have been commuting by bike and the need for this city and others to become bike friendly is ever-more important.

  3. Ghost Rider

    PJ, you’re right, of course — cyclists ARE still a tiny minority compared to motorists. And yes, changes are happening, but these tiny incremental improvements suggest that folks aren’t really serious about things yet.

    Here’s another question for everyone: are there too many local advocacy groups? Would we be better served if each city tried to consolidate the various clubs and groups into a larger “umbrella” group that packed more political muscle?

  4. Iron Man

    My city is 20 million in the hole right now. So any expenditure that appears “recreational” to the voters is going to get shot down. Even the majority of cyclists in my town are recreational cyclists. Their view of advocacy doesn’t go much beyond “Share the Road.” My views of what was needed drastically changed when I became a commuter vs when I was a purely recreational rider.

  5. Vadim

    For any Chicago people that are interested, I’m trying to organize a campaign to get a shared bike lane on Broadway north of Diversey.

    Everyone who would want one should join this campaign and commit to sending a letter once we reach 100 people.

    I commute every day in Uptown and Broadway would be great if it would be a little safer for bicyclists and pedestrians in general.

  6. Palm Beach Bike Tours

    Bike lanes don’t rouse the ire of potential opponents? That hasn’t been my experience.

    For a few years now, the South Florida cycling community has been in litigation with the State of Florida over the widening of State Road A1A along the beach. The FDOT’s own rules say when you do serious road work, you add a bike lane. The folks along A1A — mostly wealthy or powerful — don’t want cyclists (or anyone else for that matter) using their road. The A1A property owners managed to keep the bike lane from being built.

    The courts have found that a bike lane should have been installed but the state has no money to go back and redo A1A to add the lane. So, we lost even though we won.

    Bike lanes face resistance from from inside the castle walls as well. There are a lot of serious, well-respected cyclists who are rabidly opposed to bike lanes.

    Ghost, I think you’re onto something when you suggest a large organization to represent all bike riders. Unfortunately, many of the key issues we face are our most divisive. Mandatory helmet laws. Bike lanes. Spending on mountain bike trails or paved trails. Shouting ‘clear’ at intersections or actually obeying the law. Bike shorts or bibs. Wool or synthetic. Bell or horn.

    You get the idea. Before we can hire a lobbyist, we need to all be on the same page as to what we want.


  7. PJ

    I think as more people start commuting by bike, and heaven forbid more bike-related accidents, the people upstairs will start to take notice. I have noticed that in this great country of ours, it takes tragedy for change to occur.

    As far as a big bicycling advocacy, that would be a great idea. As the price of gas creeps upward, hopefully more of the above-average joes will catch on to the movement and provide the much needed muscle for bicycling advocacies. $4 a gallon was my tipping point. What will it take for the well-heeled?

  8. Ghost Rider

    Matt, you’ve discovered the weakness in FL DOT’s own rules. They threw in a “where feasible” clause that lets municipalities decide at whim whether bike lanes become part of the rebuild or not…and they usually choose “not”.

    I agree — advocacy groups have to come together with a unified set of demands, and that’s a battle in itself!

  9. Iron Man

    Matt, BIBS! That’s one down. What’s next?

  10. Pingback: fUSION Anomalog. » Blog Archive » Pedal Power: Affect The Change

  11. ricke

    i’m from Ill. and i’ve been commuting since i lost my driver licence in 1987. commuting there was hell! but i did it. now i live in portland oregon and wooweeee it’s so nice here! we still have our own problems here but we seem to overcome them in some way or another. i now commute 70 miles round trip to work and it’s like living back home again! once your out of the city limits……your on your own! good luck out there! ride hard, ride fast, it’s two against four, eventually we’ll win cause there won’t be any fuel left………… but your own 2 legs!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *