The car: a species gone wild

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog in praise of bicycles as a civilising influence. My attention was recently brought to an article in Worldwatch magazine (July/August 2010, Volume 23, No. 4) about the growth of cycling as an essential element of modern urban planning. This is a nice way of putting it:

Enlightened city planners increasingly seek the optimal balance among public transit, pedestrians, bicycles, and automobiles. The dynamic is similar to a healthy ecosystem in which each species has a niche and where all species interact to create an efficient, stable, and productive biological whole. In many urban ecosystems, the car is a species gone wild that has marginalized buses, bikes, and other types of transportation and caused a proliferation of structures such as highways and parking lots that drain resources away from other species. The automobile also generates wastes, from carbon dioxide to soot, that undermine the overall health of the ecosystem. The result is an impoverished transportation ecology that fails in its primary function: to get people where they need to go in a clean, efficient, convenient, and affordable manner. So finding the optimal balance in transportation ecology invariably means scaling back the niche of the private automobile.

The longer I live in Amsterdam, the more firmly I believe that bikes bring nothing but win to a city. Friends have often said “but it’s easier in Amsterdam because it’s so flat there and there are plenty of cycle paths”. The author of this article argues that almost every city can benefit from bike-friendly policies. One statistic that struck me particularly is that fatalities from cycling in the Netherlands are only one-fifth as high as in the USA. This is remarkable when you note that about 1% of urban trips in the States are by bike, as opposed to nearly 40% in the Netherlands. The more people take to their bikes, the safer it becomes.