Here's another reason, during this Bike to Work Week, for the growth in practical biking: demographics.
I say "practical biking" to distinguish it from recreational biking. Bikes are great for a workout or for a trip on country roads, but mostly what we're talking about here this week is biking as a means of daily transportation to commute to work and school and do errands.
I am a Baby Boomer, a generation usually defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. There are 77 million of us in the United States, and if you haven't noticed, we're getting older. The generation that used to warn each other against trusting anyone over 30 is getting to the point where they soon won't be able to trust their own children.
And as we age, a generation that has been focused on the broader social good needs to think about its contributions to climate change and to the health care mess. The obsession with the national debt, as if that was the greatest harm we are doing to succeeding generations, is badly misplaced. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the debt really isn't that big a deal.
But what is a big deal is a rapidly warming planet and the cost of health care. We've badly screwed up the environment, and if we use expensive health care interventions at the current rate, we'll crush the system.
The great thing about bikes is that they do something (though far from everything we need to do) to address both problems. Biking as a part of daily life will help keep us healthy and it will reduce the amount of CO2 that we pump into the atmosphere. Plus, as we age, we should just drive less for everyone's safety.
On the other end of the spectrum are Millennials, the generation just now coming of age as college students and young adults. It turns out that they don't view cars the way we did. Cars just aren't all that important to them. The percentage of 19-year-olds opting not to get a drivers license has increased from just 8% in the 1970s to 23% today. If you didn't have a license when I was 19, you were a freak. Today, you're kind of cool.
Combine the two trends of Boomers now driving less and Millennials not embracing the driving culture to begin with, and you get a reversal in total vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. for the first time in six decades. As a recent report indicates, this is a fundamental shift in preferences, not just a blip due to the recession.
What it means is that biking (and use of mass transit and walking) are on the ascendancy. This is an unmitigated good. People are demanding better bike infrastructure, from dedicated bike paths to cycle tracks and more parking. Let's see the trend coming and give the people what they want.