I have the good fortune of living in Portland, Oregon, where I bike commute daily. In a recent article it was reported that a former car dealership is soon opening as a 10,000 square foot bike shop and that other bike shops in town are expanding. A sign of the times or something Portland specific?
In either case, despite the massive and increasing miles of bicycling infrastructure and resources, well under 10% of Portland’s population commutes regularly by bicycle. And that’s a national record high figure!
Why is this the case?
Many factors could be pointed to, like the American association of having a car with being grown up, extensive commutes without an easy way for people to get around without their car, and the simple things, like bike lanes or even sidewalks. Car driver/bicyclist antagonism could play a part. Or it may be as Ride The City posited, the gas. The cheapness of it! Yes, at $4 a gallon.
Cheap gas has made low-density development and auto dependence a logical and cost-effective choice for most adults and has allowed those of us with easy access to an automobile to live comfortably among miles of strip malls, office “parks” located hours from city centers and far-flung suburban development. That very expensive infrastructure makes less and less sense as energy costs rise, but it’s also the legacy we have to work with.
But what if all of the needed factors are in place, people say they’re willing to give biking as an adult a try, and it still isn’t happening? What’s stopping them?
For many, it may be as simple as safety. Being used to being behind tons of steel, people feel too vulnerable, being exposed on 20 pounds of aluminum. An emerging solution may help address that, while upping the cool factor: Project Aura.
As the video explains, most bicycle fatalities occur at night, between 5-10pm. 36% occur at intersections. Powered by a wheel mounted dynamo, a rider need only pedal, and their wheels are lit up via a series of LEDs on the outer edge of the wheels, giving it a distinctly Tronlike appearance, which changes color depending on the speed.
The Aura Project video demonstrates their device in a number of settings – It’s unmissable. And, with no batteries to die and no switch needed to turn it on, foolproof.
Is it the answer to all America’s biking woes? No. But, judging from the huge interest people are showing for what was just meant to be a student industrial design project, the Aura Project may yet see the light of day.
Readers: How do you see biking as primary transportation becoming a reality for more Americans? What are some successes we can model? What’s missing from the current picture?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.