Friday Group Ride #170

I think about a future without cars. Mainly I think about it as I’m being squeezed into the narrowest, graveliest part of the shoulder by some four-wheeled behemoth whose pilot is happily chirping away on the phone. My desire for fewer (or zero) cars is selfish, about my own safety and convenience, and it disregards the great conveniences that come to me by automobile. For example, I always take the car grocery shopping.

Wanting cars to go away is just my infantile reaction to hating pollution and crowding and the constant threat to my safety. Too many folks need to move their families around. Too many folks live in decentralized living situations. The car is too useful to go away. I am not sure I really want to live in a world without them, but I think about it.

Obviously, the car is going to change, as it has already started doing, as the bike continues to change. Perhaps it (again, like the bike) will become increasingly electric. Perhaps solar electric. I see cargo bikes in the city now, some two-wheeled, some three. I have seen them with electric assist. I see more and more people dropping their kids off at school with trailers and other multi-person pedal craft. Are cars and bikes already converging?

We are mainly road cyclists here. Many of us commute by bike. Many of us use the bike for errands. Regardless we are cyclists. We have talked a little lately about the soft edge of the cycling population, those who might not feel all the way comfortable in lycra and tippy-tappy shoes, and I tend to think this is precisely where the future lies for both car and bike. These are the people who will be driving/riding future vehicles.

With oil going away and the atmosphere warming, the cycling population has to grow. It has to, right?

This week’s Group Ride asks, what does the future look like? Are there really more people on bikes? How many more, orders of magnitude, or just a few? How does it change how we cyclists get around? Will things get better or worse? Does anyone even have a clue?

Image: The Big Dog

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  1. Patrick O'Brien

    Better. I see more and more riders every time we go out, including commuters. But, I live in Arizona where it is easy to ride almost everyday without weather worries.

  2. Ransom

    I don’t think it’ll be a smooth continuum toward more people on bikes, though I suspect that will be the overarching trend.

    We already have enough people on bikes here in Portland to make certain areas worse on a bike than in a car at rush hour. It’s as though Cats 1 through 5 all got lined up for the same start and then squeezed into a 3′ wide course…

    Getting enough room to ease that is only one issue, and it seems like that will have to be solved sooner than we’re going to be ready for a giant drop in car traffic, which may or may not happen as part of a huge change in how far we go to conduct our daily lives.

    If this change results in developing a proper local pub for everyone, I think I can cope.

  3. Champs

    @Ransom: bike traffic pretty much shakes itself out in less than a minute around Broadway/Williams and Hawthorne/Grand. Some of the bridges require a little more patience. I’ll soft pedal them all before inching a car to and from The ‘Couve on I5. Twenty minutes there, twenty minutes back, and you’ve lost a whole week of the year just driving to and from work every day.

  4. Spiff

    In DC we have Bikeshare. It just came to NYC. The folks apossed to the mayor hate it because they hate change. Bikes are here to stay on the East coast. Bike lanes and traffic lights just for bikes. Its not all perfect but its better than nothing. We still have bike messagers but some comuters think they can ride like them. If I get hit, it will be by a comuter not a car.

  5. Aaron Anderson

    In my fair city, there continues to be a serious percentage uptick in bikers year-over-year (measured mainly on Bike to work Day & increased membership in the SF Bike Coalition). What needs to happen is a corresponding increase in bike/pedestrian friendly infrastructure. As our streets become more & more user friendly for both autos and bikes (coexisting), the increased feeling of safety will push out biking into the more-ordinary-rider-set (e.g. those not comfortable blazing about town in shrink wrap togs & “tippy tappy shoes”). As these improvements are made and numbers increase, the culture will shift toward a much more healthy lifestyle where we need to bust out more space for the free bike valet stations at the ballpark (which I use when I can while going to see the SF Giants play) and other events/locations, and the like. In the long view, I see bikes more common than cars. Autos used only infrequently. What autos are used are electric (preferably charged by solar or wind). People living closer to work places. Community coming alive with the convivial interactions one can have while pedaling about (much like a group ride) where we prefer to be active, sweating a bit, talking with perfect strangers rolling up to stop lights & signs (putting a foot down so the cops don’t mistakenly pull you over for running them), and seeking out ways to make the commute to and from work longer instead of shorter. This is in direct contrast to today where autos dominate over bikes and people prefer to be ensconced in their own individual autos mistakenly thinking they are safe from interaction and danger; hibernating their youth away. We will seek each other out and crave interaction & the conversation will be much more rich on the bike (or walking/running as well).

  6. Chris

    I am in the process of looking to buy a house in the town in which I grew up, but have not lived in for 14 years. My first instinct was to look in neighbourhoods similar to that of my childhood: large houses on large lots outside of town. Once I got my driver’s license at 16 I routinely drove 100km eaach day to school, work, visiting friends.

    Now I live in the city, bike my 2 year-old son 5km to daycare, stop by my office or visit clients. They are all easily accessible my bike, indeed more easily than by car if the weather is good.

    I am pained by the thought of moving back to a small town and relying on a car, or two cars really as a family, for every errand, every trip, groceries, social calls, etc.

    I have yet to figure out how to balance the extra space I could have in a small town against the commute required to get from there to the rest of my life.

  7. scaredskinnydog

    I really want that monster truck bike. How much fun would it be to cruise arround looking down at the motorists that usually hurry and intimidate you. I can see it now I pull up next to some redneck in his pickup look down and say (in my best redneck voice) “Hey buddy, I like your lil’ truck”.
    p.s. I think bikes are here to stay but more emphasis should be put on infrastructure and education.

  8. Michael

    I am hopeful, but see new problems that we’ll solve. Many cyclists are still not clear on riding safely, staying on their side of a bike path and paying attention instead of talking on their stupid phones while riding. Such riders can create a lot of havoc on crowded paths. The good news is that it is tough to hide that you are texting or talking on the phone on a bike, so enforcement could be simpler. As we widen the bicycle share of thoroughfares, that will open up smoother riding in places like Portland.

    Another place I am really looking for improvement is in Robot’s worry about that car passing too closely. If we start getting more of those driverless googlecars on the road, with programmed-in minimum passing distances, the roads should get safer and safer. That will make a huge difference for us, as well as opening up new transportation options to those who cannot drive a car or ride a bike (e.g. people with frequent seizures).

  9. Eto

    The technology arc for vehicles is towards autonomous driving.

    We have heard of the investment and progress Google has been making in autonomous driving. They believe it will be the future and are helping to lead the way. Many vehicles sold today already have features / technologies that are controlling aspects of the vehicle’s safety systems including crash avoidance that manipulate the brake, accelerator and steering of the vehicle. A challenge common to this trend and the desire to grow the use of the bike is effectively grow the infrastructure.

    If you think about a future were vehicles are either partially or fully controlled by highly networked systems, with a higher degree of safety, the future for bikes and vehicles to co-exist looks brighter than ever.

  10. ervgopwr

    Robot, Come on?! How can you drive to the store? That is one errand where I know it can be bike only. Yes I have/use a cargo bike but still. Its singular purpose is grocery, no other stops. And I think that is the future; more people realizing thier most basic trips can be done on bike (with an appropriate protected or low volume street network), sorry planning nerd. Moral of story; what is one trip everyone makes, grocery, can it be done by bike? Good place, yes! Next place, working on it.

  11. ervgopwr

    Actually, I also use my cargo bike to transport my track bike to the velodrome. Excuse my oversight.

  12. SusanJane

    I actually the biggest change will be in our cities and towns. Economics led to supermarkets and super box stores — economy of scale. The shift will be away from this according to city planners and futurists. Local stores, local schools, local jobs. We only need to go to europe to see this shift happening where gas prices are huge compared to here. Yes, bicycles and walking along with public transportation will become the only practical solutions to energy issues. But we will be more profoundly changed by a neighborhood grocery store replacing the crappy quick mart where we now buy gas.

  13. Maremma Mark

    I live in Italy, where it costs roughly €90,00 euro to fill up a medium sized European car with diesel fuel, gasoline costs even more. That is proving to be the tipping point with moving people away from car use to bicycles. It’s going to a slow process though, the private car is simply so easy to use and convenient that it would appear folks have to be forced to leave them at home. But once you discover the joy of using a cycle to get around on, run errands on and do everyday business with, it triggers something even in die-hard car users. That’s my impression at least. But this is a bike friendly culture already, so perhaps part of the struggle has been accomplished. Though even in this apparently bike friendly country, every year around 300 cyclists die on its roads in accidents with motor vehicles.

    Until use of the bicycle becomes a political priority there will always be a lack of infrastructure and awareness. And I think it’s fairly obvious we’re a long way from reaching that reality. In the meantime I try and set a good example, share the road and spread the word. Bikes are better!

  14. James Liu

    Out here in Chicago, it’s become more and more routine to go by bike. Even in the winter, it’s become pretty routine. The city can’t put up bike racks fast enough, even after it stopped pulling (now obsoleted) parking meters so bikes can park on them. It’s even become more or less normal for people to go about their everyday business wearing bike shoes (SPDs, of course).

  15. becomingblue

    Bikes are great and so are cars. I love the act of driving and the freedom it brings. I don’t want to live in the city, I like neighborhoods that have trees and grass. I hope cars don’t vanish and I hate the thought of Google cars. Ugh. I want to control my bike, motorcycle, car, whatever.

    I been to golf cart communities, mostly in Florida, and they may be on to something. Small, simple, gas or battery powered, easy to get around on and pretty efficient. They buzz all over the communities and are used for everything. They share the same lanes as bikes.

  16. Full Monte

    More comment from Chicago area: You know you’ve hit the mainstream when major office buildings, apartments, condos etc start offering bike valet. And while Rahm has his critics, and doles out politics with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, it’s pretty cool to have a mayor so focused on fitness (with a similarly minded staff, to boot). Out here in the ‘burbs, there’s a great network of trails for the casual rider, and the rolling, farmland county highways west of the Fox Valley toward Dekalb and north toward Lake Geneva, WI offer some fantastic road riding.

    There’s a collection of many fine, dedicated, well-staffed and stocked cycling shops all throughout the area. Within a 10 minute pedal of my house, there are three professional shops – great products and skilled wrenches. An embarrassment of riches.

    From our perspective today, all is good, and getting even better for cycling. From cat riders, families, to casual and recreational riders, the sport is booming here.

    But, I caution, in everything, there’s a cycle. Even cycling. An up and down. A growth and contraction.

    Right now, cycling is winning. We’re getting bike lanes and trails. Adding new fans and participants. Beating back the car-centrics and critics. But there will come a time when attitudes and acceptance reverses. Always does, always will. What will cause it? Too much bike congestion? Too many civic commitments and tax dollars spent per rider-mile? Battery technology evolution, leading to feasible and commonplace e-cars and e-scooters?

    Don’t know. But do know that for now, we’re living in a bike renaissance. I’m gonna enjoy it while I can.

  17. Full Monte

    One more quick comment. Just heard on WBAZ (NPR, Chicago) that there’s an ordnance being drafted this week (being Bike to Work Week and all) that will require businesses in the city of Chicago to offer indoor, secure bike parking facilities or allow employees access to freight elevators with their bikes so they can park them in their offices.

    Mind blown. Really. This 40-something dude remembers days when riding a bike to work made you a planet Pluto outlier.

  18. LesB

    Bikes were here before cars, and they will be here after cars have gone the way of the dinosaur.

    I don’t know if that’s true, but I like the sound of it.

    One instance in which cycling has made inroad recently is with the homeless. In recent years I’ve witnessed the advent of homeless on bikes, and it seems to be increasing. Presumably a big part of the reason for this is an increase in cast-off cycles as cycling becomes more popular.

    These people don’t have their cycling-group identities, they are not target of any design efforts or ad campaigns. Despite all that, cycling for them can be more of a vital pursuit than for the rest of us. It can increase the range they forage for food and find shelter and move on to a new town.

    And I wonder too, as they cruise along, if they are getting some of the same enjoyment we get out of riding.

  19. Chrispy

    LesB, I see many homeless riding bicycles in Toronto too…unfortunately they steal them to make money for food or less useful items. When you see an old guy dressed in filthy rags riding by on a Pinarello Dogma with carbon wheels, it does seem suspicious!

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