March 4, 2008, 6:40PM – Houston Chronicle
Will 2008 mark beginning of era of American cyclist?
By NEAL PEIRCE
Bicycling's best year since the start of the auto age? That's the argument being made through Thursday as hundreds of cyclists from across the nation gather in Washington for the National Bike Summit sponsored of the League of American Bicyclists.
A crescendo of trends and developments makes the case.
First the trends: Oil costs are surpassing $100 a barrel, global warming alarm calls are mounting, polluting autos and trucks increasingly clog city streets, and health concerns about a sedentary and fattening society are mounting.
And now the developments: Handy bike-for-hire stations are proving instant hits in Paris and other European cities, and seem poised to invade urban America . Moves to add painted bike lanes along city roadways are being eclipsed by proposals for entire networks of "bike boulevards" — roadways altered radically to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. And a companion "Complete Streets" movement — making roadway space for cyclists and pedestrians, not just cars and trucks — is gaining traction nationwide.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus (160 bipartisan members), claims a new pro-bike politics is forming, that it can mobilize a 1-million-plus national constituency and force clear recognition of the role of bicycles in the next (2009) federal transportation bill. He and the Bike Summit will be pushing for a sense of Congress resolution recognizing the potential of bikes to undergird a greener, healthier and more efficient national future.
Cycling, nationwide, still counts for tiny portions of commuting and shopping trips. But Portland 's experience shows the potential, Blumenauer insists: Since that city's bike program began in the 1990s, the "modal split" for bikes has quadrupled and a $100 million bike industry has emerged, accounting for 1,000 jobs.
Paris' Velib bike rental program — the name combines velo (bicycle) and liberte (freedom) — opened last July and registered an astounding 2 million trips in its first 40 days. Twenty-thousand bikes are available at 1,450 cycling stations across the city. Insert a credit card to sign up ($1.50 a day to $43 a year) and you can drop your bike off at any other station, the first 30 minutes free.
Paris' sturdy bikes have three gears, good hand brakes, adjustable seat levels and "sit-up" handlebars. They're equipped with antitheft and global positioning devices. Cost of the biking operation is offset by revenues from advertising at bus shelters and other "outdoor furniture."
Almost identical systems are sprouting up across Europe — in Lyons , Rennes , Barcelona , Oslo , Stockholm , Seville , Brussels , Vienna . Many others are soon to come, including London and Rome .
Sometime this April the first serious U.S. fast bike-rental system is due to open in Washington , D.C. , followed shortly by San Francisco . Considering the idea or in active negotiations are Houston , Tucson , San Antonio , Portland , Cambridge and Boulder .
Among other possible U.S. cities is Chicago — Mayor Richard Daley tested a Velib bike in Paris last summer and came back a fan. Add Louisville : The health giant Humana has bikes for its own workers, and Mayor Jerry Abramson likes the idea of a citywide system. And the U.S. Capitol complex — it's a small city of 12,000 workers and, Blumenauer suggests, "government needs to lead by example."
On the bike boulevard front, London sprang to world leadership with Mayor Ken Livingstone's February announcement of a $787 million system of 12 two-wheeler superhighways connecting popular residential areas to the city center. The roadways will have continuous, wide cycle lanes, dedicated junctions and clear signs, cutting a swath through traffic.
Planners hope the London system will attract a "critical mass" of cyclists; even diverting 5 percent of people from their cars and the tubes and buses, it's estimated, would result in 1.7 million cycle trips each day.
Londoners also hope to set up special cycle networks around 15 suburban towns, connecting residences with schools, train and bus stations, parks and shops.
Portland has its own version of bike boulevards — remakes of residential streets that had been degraded by motorists using them as cut-throughs. With a minimum of traffic-calming devices such as speed bumps and traffic islands, cut-through traffic was effectively excluded.
Contentious when they were first introduced a decade ago, the Portland bike boulevards have created quality environments, raising nearby home prices significantly. But perhaps most importantly, they've marked a major shift from meeting needs of expert and intermediate cyclists. The focus, instead, is on making cycling welcoming for everyone — kids, families and novices included.
And in the long run, that's what the worldwide and U.S. bike reforms will have to achieve — a world of safe cycling for people of all ages, both sexes, all skill levels. If we get there, you can mark 2008 as a big year on the route.
Peirce is a syndicated columnist who specializes in city and state affairs. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nissan exec: Car culture is fading
Worldwide, people are losing interest in automobiles,
one executive says.
By Alex Taylor, Fortune senior editor
DETROIT (Fortune) -- If you are looking for some insight into what the automobile of the future will look like you could do worse than talk with Tom Lane . An American, he runs all of Nissan's Product Strategy anad Product Planning from his office in Tokyo .
Unlike most executives, he welcomes the imposition of new U.S. fuel regulations that mandate 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
"It is not an issue" for Nissan (NSANY) he says.
He expects the new regs to drive more small cars, improved technoloy, and a broader variety of shapes and sizes, as designers try to get more variety out of similarly-sized vehicles.
But he points to some discouraging global trends that don't bode well for the industry.
He notes that consumers in Japan are losing their mojo when it comes to cars. The population is aging, and younger drivers would rather spend their money on new cellphones and Internet access.
" Japan is increasingly not interested in new cars," he says.
The population in Europe is aging too, and Lane sees similar ennui spreading there. As car ownership becomes more expensive and cities increasingly impose congestion pricing on car usage in center cities, he sees car owners switching to mass transit for their daily commute, and then renting cars for longer trips.
"The U.S. is headed that way," he says. "The challenge for us, going forward, is a more interesting offer. Doing a better Sentra or an Altima isn't going to do it." To top of page
NOPE. IT'S NOT.