Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2010 by Roger Smith
The bicycle: what an exquisite piece of technology! Such a joyful means of locomotion. So aesthetically pleasing in its sleek narrowness. The essence of sustainability: it burns no carbon, but does burn calories, as it gets you from place to place. Human powered, human scale. A work of mechanical genius to invent, but requiring only modest knowhow to repair. The bike illustrates the principles of humanistic, non-ecocidal technology.
Unfortunately, in most American cities the bicycle fits awkwardly into a transportation system designed around the automobile. Cyclists have to traverse a sprawling, congested urban layout, jockeying for space with motorists not always eager to share the road.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has tried to stir up change on transportation issues and especially on curbing the automobile. He fought unsuccessfully to impose a "congestion pricing" scheme on cars driving through the Manhattan streets. He closed off Times Square and Herald Square to cars, creating the Big Apple's strangest beaches. These were some of the most provocative experiments in reforming Manhattan's urban environment since the anarchist writer Paul Goodman, and his brother Percival, a noted architect and urban planner, proposed the banning of private cars from Manhattan in 1961.
The Goodmans' idea, published in the magazine Dissent, was outlandish but founded on some thought-provoking arguments. Phasing out cars while improving subways, buses, and taxis could actually make getting around town easier for a majority of New Yorkers. It would certainly encourage a blossoming of bicycle use and make a sizable dent in pollution. Furthermore, a ban on private cars would eliminate the need for many low-traffic streets, which could be converted to bike paths, pedestrian malls, new housing, or other innovative community uses. The Goodmans envisioned the ban being enacted through a "prohibitive entry fee" on automobiles—the same idea Bloomberg calls congestion pricing.
So in this spirit, dear reader, you are hereby invited to dream big. What could your hometown do to make its streets a better home for bikers, drivers, and pedestrians alike? More bike lanes? Better public transportation? Changing your city's streets is up to you. Here is your challenge: Dream up five proposals for improving your city's streets, submit them to your local government, and enter the contest here, and you will be entered to win a brand-new Breezer Uptown 8 bicycle (in the US) or a Biomega CPH (in Europe). The giveaway contest is sponsored by the producers of the upcoming documentary film Paul Goodman Changed My Life. Spread the word, and the deed.
P.S.: Here's an article from Yes! magazine with some thoughtful suggestions taken from the bike-friendly Netherlands.