Boyonabike! is about bikes, commuting by bikes, alternative transportation issues, and the challenges of living car-light in car-dependent Southern California. As a product of this car-centric society, I write this blog because our overreliance on the automobile has, among other things, polluted our air, deformed our cities and our architecture, contributed to a sedentary lifestyle that has made us less healthy, led to our dependence on petro-resources, ensnared us in a cycle of consumption and debt, and, perhaps most troubling, contributed to our altering of the planet’s climate. Automobiles cause the death of approximately 40,000 Americans annually, and maim many thousands more each year. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the average annual cost of an automobile is $6,000, and those are just the direct costs (gas, maintenance, car payment, insurance), leaving out the billions of dollars in tax money to build, maintain, and police our roadways, not to mention the cost of what Michael Klare has called “resource wars” whose purpose is to secure stable regimes in oil-producing regions of the world. Nor, as economist Donald Shoup has shown, does it take into account the enormous amount of money homebuilders, businesses, and public agencies must sink into providing parking for all our cars when they’re not being used.
To put it bluntly, the car-based lifestyle is bankrupting us and, sometimes literally killing us. We need to provide transportation choices for people, and the bicycle, along with other modes of transport, such as light rail and reliable bus service, can be a vital part of the equation. I’m not advocating abolishing the automobile. It still has a role to play and there are times when the use of one is necessary, but I do think we’ve spent the last 60 or so years (since WWII) putting almost all our surface transportation eggs in one basket, and most people, even when they rail against gas prices or traffic congestion, don’t realize that another way is possible, even essential.
Consider that roughly 40 percent of all car trips are of 2 miles or less, and that an automobile produces most of its pollution before the engine has warmed up. Replacing half of those short trips with the bicycle should be our goal in the next 10 years. In the meantime, we’ve become convinced we can’t live without our cars, even for the shortest trips. I’m reminded of the scene in the film “California Story,” in which Steve Martin’s character gets in his car, drives to his next door neighbor’s house, pulls in his neighbor’s driveway, borrows a cup of sugar, and gets back in his car and drives 20 feet back to his own house. Ridiculous, of course, but sadly there’s a kernel of truth in it. To be fair, in many cases, we’ve constructed our infrastructure so that people don’t feel safe riding a bike for trips within a 2-3 mile radius around their homes. This must change.
In 2009, after many years of using the bike primarily for recreation, I challenged myself to substitute my bike for one short car trip per week. In doing so, I rediscovered the joys of short trips around my neighborhood, not to mention the benefit to my health and the profound insights I gained that changed the way I looked at our built environment and our car-centered culture. In 2010, I traveled to Portland, OR, and saw firsthand the way a city can be designed around multiple modes of transportation, and the way this makes the city more livable. I also experienced CicLAvia for the first time, and my eyes were opened to the extraordinary transformative potential of car-free urban space.
This blog will celebrate the benefits of the bicycle as a mode of transportation, share information about transportation issues, and seek to inform readers about the changes we must make—most of them relatively small—that can make a big difference in getting people out of their cars and onto the most practical, efficient, and arguably most enjoyable mode of self-propelled transport ever invented.
The author of Boyonabike is John Lloyd, an Associate Professor of History at Cal Poly Pomona.