Wednesday, February 11
We all learned in school that bikes are the most efficient transportation, in both the artificial and animal worlds. But how can humans be more efficient than, say, antelope? Because of all the "embedded" energy already invested to smooth and pave the roads, which makes skinny wheels way more efficient than any legs. (Animals can't coast, for one thing.)
Cycling's also fun and keeps you healthy. In my 30s I rode across Mexico among other long rides. At 56 I still do all my local travel by bike. Bikes should be our first choice when practical. Bikes are, or can be, easy to take on public transportation, a great combination.
People talk about "transit" as if it were all good. But as the standard text Principles of Pavement Design or any pavement engineer will tell you, road damage increases as the FOURTH power of vehicle weight (assuming the same number of axles). This means that a bus weighing about ten times the average car does TEN THOUSAND times more damage! So buses and heavy trucks do almost all the damage to our highways and major roads.
Pounding our roads and highways, the most expensive infrastructure in the U.S., is just not "sustainable." Heavy transport should where possible run on steel rails, far cheaper and more durable than roads. Rail transport is also the 2nd most efficient, after the bicycle.
Until the 1940s, most urbanites commuted on streetcars -running on rails. Some of our "stimulus" money should go to rebuild them. Some should go to improve long-distance rail lines. And some should go to develop and produce an affordable electric car -especially since car companies are getting bailed out.
Electric cars don't pollute and go much further per dollar than internal combustion vehicles. Having far fewer moving parts and no explosions inside, they are far more durable and require far less maintenance. Soon, many will be charging them from solar panels on their homes, and their batteries will be tied into the electric grid, providing storage to even out the intermittent production of solar and wind energy, and uneven usage.
Hybrid cars save gas, but there's evidence the "embodied" extra energy involved in producing TWO engines -electric and gas- may outweigh that savings, unless, like cabbies, you drive a lot. The gas engine still requires lots of maintenance.
Once economics and physics force much transportion back to streetcars and trains, America's huge road and highway network will be much safer and more fun for cycling again. And the roads will last: A cyclist on a bike weighing (at most) ten times less than a car does TEN THOUSAND times less road damage, 100 MILLION times less than a bus!