having just returned from a saunter round loch gorm over easter sunday, this book is quite pertinent in an interesting sort of way. islay's a busy place at easter, particularly on a pleasant sunny day, though i have yet to find a rational explanation for the phrase 'it's a lovely day - let's go for a drive. at times on our anticlockwise circumambulation of the loch, there were veritable convoys of vehicles travelling in a converse direction. skip back a few years to when the same situation occurred, and there's an odds-on chance that motor vehicles would have continued on their merry way, in the expectation that cyclists would give way. today, however, there were only a small minority of vehicles expecting such behaviour from our mini peloton.
now there are not enough cyclists on islay, nor is there any sort of vehicle/bicycle conflict of any real nature, to have created this effect alone; but the majority of these easter visitors to islay have come from the cities, and are quite rightly off to spend some time on the island's atlantic beaches, something it is very difficult to do in buchanan street, or prince's street. so it seems likely that the apparently regular deferment of the car drivers has come about for perhaps two reasons: the rapid increase in cycling's popularity since beijing 2008, and the activities of various environmantal and cycling bodies in britain's inner cities.
jeff mapes, political correspondent for the oregonian, lives in portland, and counts himself as an active cyclist - active in the sense that he uses a bicycle to commute to and from his home and workplace. in pedaling revolution he traces the the upsurge in bicycling advocacy, perhaps surprisingly, considering the book's subtitle, not just in north america. much of what is happening in his part of the world is based on the advances made in europe, particularly in the netherlands, where most cycling activists look to for their inspiration, either to disagree with the dutch notion of separating cyclists from motorised road users, or to study how they can adopt or improve this method of increasing cycle use.
america suffers a major disadvantage that does not afflict many european cities, and that is the distance factor; while this side of the pond is compact and bijou, across the atlantic big is almost a by-word, giving a large proportion of the population a comfortable excuse to remain within their metal boxes. some cities have taken the bull by the horns and adapted their road system to give cyclists as much equality as it's possible to attain in a car dominated world: portland is perhaps the de facto example, a city generally regarded as the cycling capital of the united states. but also heading in a similar direction are the cities of boston, new york, davis, and perhaps one or two others.
it would be a rather simple equation to write a similar tome by relying on anecdotal evidence, and heavily studying the available statistics thoughtfully provided by each state or city. granted, these statistics can be skewed in either direction, depending on the proclivity of each state department, but jeff mapes has avoided such a pitfall by visiting each city, and riding with and interviewing some of the more prominent cycling activists and state employees with a remit that encompasses transportation. he also travelled to holland for a first hand view of just how the dutch system has become such a paragon of virtue.
and he has not missed the junior element or health benefits. there are many within the environmental and cycling movements who recognise that a country's youth is the way to effect change. for many of america's adults, it is probably too late, since little short of an enormous hike in the cost of petrol is likely to get them from behind their steering wheels and onto two wheels. however, ostensibly, those currently in the early years of state education are still susceptible to positive influence (though doubtless there are those from the motoring lobby who would disagree with use of the word positive in this context - in 1969 a study confirmed that 42 percent of the nation's children cycled or walked to school; by 2001, this had dropped to 15 percent). the health benefits of cycling are legion, but here jeff mapes can provide personal evidence from his own switch from car to bike and at the head of this chapter comes what must be one of the finest pro-cycling quotes it would do you well to remember: "elvis would have needed to cycle 160.74 miles at 17mph to burn off his 65,000 calorie daily intake. conclusion: what killed elvis was his chronic lack of cycling". i have used this on several occasions already this past week.
i can see only two downsides to this book: firstly, i am not aware of mr mapes having spoken to any state departments in which cycling provision is nowhere near the top of their agenda, though in mitigation, the book's raison d'etre is to explore those locations in which cycling has gained and is still gaining, a greater foothold in the american transportation psyche. and secondly, in much the same way as thewashingmachinepost and most other cycling publications gain readership, there's a strong possibility that he's preaching to the converted. however, so well has the evidence been presented, and so well has this evidence been written in easily appreciated and digestible format, that its very existence may well promote the very revolution about which jeff mapes has written. cycling worldwide is very much in the ascendency, and much like vauxhall's band-wagon jumping bicycle rack built into the new corsa, there will be many an urban area and city in north america eager to join the club. i would tentatively suggest that pedaling revolution might well be their first step on that cycle path.
for cyclists who live and work in the usa, this is compulsory reading, even if you already think you know everything there is to know. and, to be honest, same goes for the rest of the world (with the possible exception of holland:-).
posted on sunday april 12 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................