How to Save the World with Two Wheels
If you haven’t already been convinced to start biking to work, then prepare to be converted to the Tao of alternative transportation. Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy (Microcosm Publishing, 2013) by Elly Blue is both a study and a call to action. The book provides readers with examples of cities, companies, and communities that have become bike-centric and explores how these changes reverberate beyond a single person’s actions into a bigger boost to the overall economy. Blue shares some insights into her motives for writing the book and gives us five reasons to hop on a bike today.
What led you to write this book?
A few years ago, as the bicycle movement was starting to gain traction in a big way in the U.S., I noticed something: A lot of the arguments being made against bicycling were economic. Things like bicyclists are freeloaders, they're all rich, they're all poor, they don't pay for the roads, bike lanes and parking are bad for business. What these arguments all have in common is that they are wrong. But at the time, few bike advocates had the tools to effectively set the story straight. I thought I'd see if I could come up with some decent counterarguments -- and I ended up being surprised by just how strong the economic case for bicycling really is.
What outcome do you hope to see?
I'd like to see more commonsense transportation and development policy decisions become the norm in the U.S. Americans are really hungry for options -- anything but driving, which is extraordinarily expensive and stressful. In every place where bicycling has become a comfortable or even feasible option, it has just boomed. Sometimes that's a result of infrastructure, sometimes it's a result of development -- almost always it's the result of a popular movement. My goal with the book is to empower people to spread that movement.
What are five things people should know today about your book or biking?
- Bicycling is unbelievably fun. And there are studies that suggest it makes you happier to get around by bike.
- You can carry truly anything by bike, with the right setup. Or anyone.
- Bicycling is something that has a disproportionately large impact on the economy and your own finances, and you don't have to wait for the government or anyone else to act before you can get started doing it. It's, ahem, "shovel ready."
- Speaking of things that are easy and rewarding, some readers have reported making it through my entire book in less than a day. I tried to take a bunch of complicated budgetary and economic data and make it accessible, and this feedback suggests that I succeeded. So dive on in!
- It's not just about biking. People who are passionate about social justice, local food, housing reform, energy issues -- any of these big-picture issues that can be tackled on the level of our daily lives and communities -- will find the book helpful in terms of framing and inspiration. All of this stuff is connected.
What has been the response so far?
So far, nearly all the feedback has been positive, even, surprisingly, from a lot of folks who aren't already into bicycling. Someone wrote on Amazon that they were inspired to give it a try, and that's about the best kind of review there is.
Can you talk a bit about how the bike can serve to do more for social change?
Bikes have proved to be excellent tools for various social movements -- and not necessarily ones that are directly bike-related. Bicycles allow free, flexible personal transportation all over a dispersed city. It's easy to ride in groups and be highly visible, but it's also easy to be strategic and speedy, carry a bunch of stuff, and never get stuck in traffic or end up circling looking for parking.
Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, by Elly Blue, Microcosm Publishing 2013.
--Cover image courtesy of © Microcosm Publishing, 2013
Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.