In 2021 I am making cycling a priority. I have given up my car lease and plan to cycle as often as possible to fulfill my transportation needs. I plan to stay closer to home and generally reduce the number of things I consume that aren’t essential. I’ve thought of going all-in on cycling for a while, and since my car lease ended, now is the time to make a significant change.
My wife owns a small car that she needs to get to work. She’s a hospital doctor and often works strange hours sometimes and needs the flexibility a car provides. She has on-call duty some evenings and weekends and must be able to arrive in the hospital no longer than 30 minutes after being called. So for her, a cycling-only lifestyle is a no-go. She takes her bicycle 10km from our home to her work many times during the year, but I have the luxury to live a cycling-first lifestyle.
Societies are overburdened with cars and the complex and costly infrastructure necessary for supporting cars. Most trips would be unnecessary if the infrastructure priority was shifted from automobiles to bicycles. Think of the incredible amount of space taken up on the planet only to serve automobiles: vast highways and endless warrens of streets in huge cities. About 35M km of roads exist to service about 1.8B vehicles. The average single-trip is about 10km.
There are some obvious, well-known arguments for reducing car trips. Drive less, and you will get more exercise, which will make you healthier, and in turn, you will be happier. This storyline has been around for a long time, but it’s not compelling. It requires people to see into their future and believe they can change their behavior for their own benefit. That is not going to happen organically. There needs to be a gentle push.
Maybe the Coronavirus is that push? It seems our air is cleaner than in many years because of the restrictions on travel. People need to walk or cycle to get exercise since nearly all the fitness clubs are closed. Just meeting people while in a lockdown is hard unless you’re allowed a walk or ride with someone in the fresh outdoor air. Many cities have embraced cycling to reduce the numbers of public transport riders, and a lot of these changes will become permanent due to the popularity and ease of cycling.
In case you have not ever seen it, there is a brilliant series on Youtube called The Life-Sized City. The notable urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen talks about redesigning cities around walking and cycling and taking back the space used for cars. I highly recommend that you watch a few shows to get an idea of what is possible. The series 5-Minute Urbanism is an excellent place to start. I think you will be amazed by how much space cars steal from the public.
Maybe just a short word on cars, too. There is a lot of press and enthusiasm for self-driving cars. We don’t need automated cars – we need fewer cars. Self-driving vehicles would be fantastic for port-to-rail cargo and point-to-point delivery, maybe even taxis or car sharing, but personally owning a self-driving car is nonsense. (I have similar feelings on electric cars but let’s save that for another day.) The answer is always fewer cars and better non-auto infrastructure.
If you can replace just two trips per week with cycling (or walking) rather than driving, then you would be contributing to a green revolution. Meaningful change starts with a few willing to try something new and make a commitment.
If you want to read something interesting on cycling, I can recommend the book It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, by Robert Penn.