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Martin: Bike Revolution

08/31/12 7:55AM By Mike Martin
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(Host) With so many cities around the world creating new bikeshare programs and bike lanes, Commentator Mike Martin has been wondering if the tension between drivers and bikers reflects a cultural change on the road.

(Martin) Back in the 70's and 80's, my dad was a pretty serious cyclist when few people in Vermont had ever heard of Campagnolo, Greg Lemond, or the Tour de France. It's easy to forget that bikes on the road were relatively rare back then. After all, this was before the popularity of mountain bikes, hybrids, and triathlons. Back then, most bikes were toys for kids, not a means of transportation or athletic gear. So my dad and his friends in the Green Mountain Bike Club really made up a small, somewhat specialized group with a peculiar interest: they liked to ride their bikes on the main road. Many drivers just didn't know what to make of men in tight black shorts, funny hats, and short-sleeved bright wool jerseys with lettering. With his big dome of a white Bell helmet, my dad probably looked like an alien to many drivers - which explains, in part, why they would sometimes throw cigarettes, beer bottles, and curses at him as they drove past.

Obviously, things are totally different now, and the tension on the roadways seems to come not from the fact that bikers are so rare, but rather that they seem to be everywhere. Since they don't pollute, bikers sometimes act a little superior when pedaling alongside automobilists. Sometimes they seem a little militant about sharing the road, like the skit on the show Portlandia where a fixed gear biker seems to bully the whole city, weaving through traffic, tooting his whistle at drivers, and yelling, "10 feet!" "This is a bike lane here!" "Bicycle Rights!"

Of course many drivers do a poor job of sharing the road too. Many casually run bikers into the curb as they pull up to an intersection, or forget to signal before turning abruptly in front of a biker, or fling their car doors open without looking in the rearview, or even use the bike lane to pass cars on the right. Sometimes these drivers are phoning, texting, eating, or GPSing, but sometimes they're just oblivious to how lethal they can potentially be to a biker with their multi-ton vehicle.

But cars are just going to have to get used to bicycles. At present, there are more than 165 cities around the world with bikeshare programs, which reflects a new vision for urban space. Bike lanes offer an alternative to traffic jams and gridlock, but perhaps more importantly, they offer a way for modern society to combat obesity, pollution, and global warming all at the same time. The biggest bikeshare programs are in Huangzou , China and Paris , France . And starting next spring, New York City will finally follow in the wake of Portland and Chattanooga with its own bikeshare program . It'll be great to finally have Gotham join the pack .

It's been a long time coming, but perhaps the bicycle has become the revolutionary symbol of our times. Changing our dominant car culture may take time, but the beauty and simplicity of bike culture make it inevitable.

You know, burn calories, not gas.
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