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Unfortunately a huge number of those bikes are gathering dust in a garage. Europeans bike 188 km/yr vs 40 km/yr for the US [1]. It would be really interesting to see the rate of change.

[1] http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/jpah08.pdf

Lets raise the gas prices to EU levels and see what happens.

It would have little effect on bicycle use. Raising gas taxes is going to cost people who have longer commutes substantially more than people who live within reasonable biking distance. The average U.S. commute is around 32 miles round-trip, which would take close to 2 hours without traffic or traffic controls.

The response to higher gas taxes would have nothing to do with bikes. We'd buy cars with better fuel efficiency, explore alternative engines with lower costs-per-mile, and continue to pay the tax. Until the efficiency gains match the costs of the tax, the rest of the economy would suffer as most people would have less discretionary spending.

You HAVE to get to work, so you're going to eat the tax. And it's regressive, to boot.

Urban people in the U.S. complain a lot about the suburban nature of most of the country, but there is little that can be reasonably done eliminate the suburbs. Most people in this country simply prefer it, and will pay more for their transportation costs to get it. Raising taxes on these people is not going to change their behavior in any meaningful way. A few extra cents, or even an extra half dollar is gas taxes is going to be a lower cost to them than uprooting their life and moving within biking distance.

little that can be reasonably done eliminate the suburbs. Most people in this country simply prefer it

If people prefer it, why does the government have to mandate it by law?

Suburban zoning and -- even more importantly -- minimum parking requirements force property developers to build nothing but sprawl with isolated pods of single-use development. Wide, hostile roads are required (by law) to carry people between commercial, office, residential, and industrial sprawl zones.

If free markets were allowed to have any influence at all on land development, you would see at least some new urban style building. As it is, nothing but sprawl is permitted.

You have stated this more beautifully than anyone else here. This is why I left the US. Mile after mile of suburban hellscape, mandated by law, and full of lazy shits who are too dumb to even know there's another way of living.

What's so bad about these miles of "suburban hellscapes"? Why do you think the people who live in them are lazy?

Where'd you find heaven?

What developers want and what people buying from those developer want may not be the same thing.

> Raising taxes on these people is not going to change their behavior in any meaningful way. A few extra cents, or even an extra half dollar is gas taxes is going to be a lower cost to them than uprooting their life and moving within biking distance.

GP said EU levels, so it's not a few cents or "even" a half dollar. It's straight up doubling or tripling gas prices. This would no doubt impose a lot of hardship on people, and there might well be significant political upheaval in the process, but if you think it wouldn't change behavior and the suburban sprawl problem then you don't realize how inelastic people's income really is.

Breathing exhaust imposes hardship on me and everyone else, but no one seems to care about that.

I care about it, I'm a cycle commuter breathing more exhaust than average.

I regret I have but one upvote to give you, sir.

So we should encourage commute with bicycles.

> how inelastic people's income really is.

I think you mean "how inelastic the demand for gas is in the face of higher prices".

Of course people's income is fixed in this equation. Though I suppose you might try to earn more if gas prices go up.

What you're trying to say is that demand for gasoline is inelastic in the face of higher prices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_elasticity_of_demand

And here's a bit on gasoline... http://economics.about.com/od/priceelasticityofdemand/a/gaso...

I am emphatically not trying to say that.

> the average U.S. commute is around 32 miles round-trip

That’s the same commute as I had during my time in high school. I did it on a bike, for 4 years, as did everyone else in my class. (I grew up in the Netherlands, where this is normal.)

> Raising gas taxes is going to cost people who have longer commutes

Which in turn will make people live closer to their work place and it will promote working from home. People might also start lobbying for more and better public transport.

There's also public transportation, I've lived in Portland and LA and on average it takes 2x-10x longer to get to where you want. I've always wondered, especially on light rail, why can't they just go faster?

Lots of reasons.

The net speed of transit is driven by stop frequency and dwell time. Remember, you simply cannot make up for the time you're not moving -- driving half your trip at 15 mph and half at 30 mph doesn't give you an average speed of 22.5 mph ((15+30)/2), but of 20 mph -- it's the total time for the trip, divided by distance.

Acceleration (and braking) of LRV has to be limited on account of standees, which generally means limiting top speeds. The fact that most LRVs travel on shared roadways (with private vehicles, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians) means they have to be prepared for sudden stops. Exclusive RoW can avoid this problem, but it's expensive: you've either got to block off surface access, elevate, or tunnel.

Tracked vehicles cannot pass one another without sidings. A consistent issue with LRVs is that if there's a breakdown, or even a delay, of an up-track vehicle, the effects ripple back through the route. Sidings (or switches) are expensive. Trolley buses (which receive power from overhead electrical wires) have similar limitations.

Any transfers you need to make will also add considerable time to your trip, and again, dwell or stationary time _cannot_ be made up by speed.

In crowded or dense urban areas, priority signaling for transit, and the lack of need to find and pay for parking, can cut some time off of trips, but that's fairly limited.

Transportation is still a trade off between convenience and price. I think a lot of the people not living within biking distance are probably also living in an area where public transport is a serious inconvenience compared to other options.

I live in the Cleveland area, and even living in the downtown area, I could imagine it being a legitimate sacrifice to live without a car. While the downtown area is growing in residence and support services, such as grocery stores, are being built downtown, it's still tough. Also, while some businesses are moving their offices downtown, other companies, especially large ones like Eaton, have moved their substantial downtown presence to the suburbs, so the problem is happening in both the residential and commercial side of real-estate. I'd have to imagine many small and mid-size cities suffer from this.

I just don't see a solution that is going to get people to cluster more, given our culture. I think the long-term solution is electric cars and the possibilities that shared, highly convenient, self-driven cars present. So instead of changing behaviors drastically, we use technology to make the required changes much smaller.

because of stopping. It takes more force to stop. Plus you would throw everyone and their stuff on the train around the process (they have no breaks for their forward acceleration).

You already feel a mild version of this in rush-hour on NYC subways. Your body will move slightly as the train breaks, often causing people to lose balance (particularly if they never experienced this previously)

Thus leading to the well-known sport of Subway Surfing.

Hah! I thought I was the only one who did that. So much fun.

I combine public transport with a bike, its about picking the moment when biking is faster than public transport. For me that is right when I get off the train. public transport time 1h 15m, combo time: 45mins. I know that by car it takes less than 1h 15 mins but more than 45 mins.

It would probably reduce the number of SUV's on the road, but not by a great number. In the Midwest, your SUV is your lifeline during Winter.

Also, the distances between cities in the US is far greater than what it is in EU nations like Germany or Italy. Plus the scenery is much better. Ever ridden across North Dakota?

An SUV is not necessary in the winter. There are winters in Europe. It isn't like they are all driving around in Dodge Durangos.

Hear hear; it's not like Volvo didn't make the 240 to drive in winter.

> An SUV is not necessary in the winter.

Assuming you live in Europe. It's different in the US.

I've climbed snow-covered mountain roads (more like trails really. unpaved roads in a state park) in upstate New York in a Honda Accord plenty of times (friend has a rather remote cabin...).

Some people do legitimately have a need for larger vehicles. The farmer I use to work for had 4 or 5 F-150s to be used on the farms (no way you are getting a regular car in and out of some of those waterlogged fields). Those were farm equipment, not something you use to drop off the kids at school. People who need vehicles like that to go grocery shopping are an extreme minority.

No, it isn't. There is absolutely no need to have a truck-based, tall monster of a vehicle in even the most serious of winter conditions in the United States. 1: places will close of road conditions are that bad. 2: a front wheel drive with good snow tires is plenty good. 3: if you're that scared of driving in the snow, a subaru impreza with snow tires is small and does quite well in the most extreme stuff.

Although I replied earlier that I've driven a small sports car through most of the last three or so winters, what you said is not always correct. There are many times that the snow is simply too deep for cars, even that Impreza. When you're high centered on snow, you're not going anywhere.

And I have never seen any of the roads around here closed, even when impassable by anything short of a snowmobile or a tractor.

I live in Canada, and you're not getting worse weather than here, and plenty of people don't drive an SUV.

I'm pretty sure "cold" and "snow" have very similar properties around the world.

You know, people in Japan drive little cars, and they get a bit of snow too:


1. That looks like a pedestrian path.

2. Wasn't that image on a Photoshop hoax site?

3. That path is perfectly clear. Try driving a car with 4" of clearance through 8" of snow. It can be done with very good snow tires, but not nearly as quickly as a vehicle with more clearance.

1. I have seen pictures of cars on the same road.

2. I do not believe so.

3. This is true. You have to clear the roads for people to use smaller cars.

People in wintery climates who want SUVs want them because the roads are frequently uncleared, or because they need to travel at night during a blizzard when the snow is piling high. If snow and ice removal operated 24/7, I agree that a smaller car would be just fine.

I drive my 350Z (2 door sports car) through most Minnesota winters and I live way out in the country on a dirt road. Have an SUV and a big pickup; most of the time they're not needed.

As people will surely pile on to tell you, the vast majority of trips taken are no more than a few miles.

If U.S. cities had proper cycling infrastructure, I would expect many more adults would use bikes for local travel. But as it is, driving is certainly more reasonable for many people when the alternative is biking on a shoulderless road with deadly vehicles passing inches away from you.

Completely agree and most cities are built with cars in mind first.

Lucky for me, I live near the most bike friendly city in the country - and it's not on the left hand coast. ;)


If it was feasible and I lived within 10 miles of where I work, I would for sure bike. Right now, I commute almost 20 minutes in my car, so biking to and from work just isn't a great idea. If I lived and worked in the city, I would for sure bike every day. Even if I worked in the city, I would utilize the light rail for the majority of my commute. It sucks I would still have to drive 10-15 minutes to get to the light rail though.

We can start with the federal fuel tax which hasn't been raised in 20 years.

Got any other great ideas that tax the working poor?

The tax could have a negative impact on the working poor, at least initially, but it's important to distinguish between short-term and long-term.

A historical example comes to mind: the collapse of the slave industry in the American South in the 1800s. (Please note that I'm referring to very specific aspects of the trade; I'm not by any means equating slavery with the energy sector, morally or otherwise.)

If you were to consider abolition from a short-term point of view, as many Americans did, it seemed like a terrible idea. It had catastrophic effects on millions of working, poor Americans. After all, it meant crippling the nation's single largest industry.

And yet, when we reflect on the American slave trade and its eventual decline, those hardships are trumped by greater moral and economic imperatives. The moral imperatives go without saying. The economic ones had to do with recognizing the true cost of labor and finding new opportunities, some of which were outside of agriculture.

Some moral and economic imperatives exist in our current conversation about restructuring the energy industry, which are only visible from a long-term perspective. For example, we're morally bound to address the long-term environmental impact and dangerousness of car travel (although, again, I'm not suggesting this moral imperative is equal to that of abolishing slavery). From an economic standpoint, we're also bound to recognize that our current methods of producing and consuming energy are unsustainable.

TL;DR: Sometimes radically restructuring an industry is the smart - and right - thing to do, despite the relatively short-term economic hardships that it causes.

It's possible to point out that a tax is regressive without being snarky.

You are correct, I just get annoyed at flippant comments about changing government policy that just happens to affect billions without thinking through the consequences.

Installing freeways and building roads with no sidewalks affects millions of people but nobody seems to care about that.

Uh, I do? Not sure what I'm being accused of. I like sidewalks.

Spend the fuel tax on a rebate given equally to every American. People can use it for gas money or, if they take the bus, to buy a sandwich.

This. Especially in cities, where car usage is a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. I personally would love to see the entirety of public transportation in major cities paid for by those who want to drive. Muni, BART, CalTrain, NYC Subway, etc. should all be funded via a tax on those who prefer to drive in a region where public transportation exists.


See, this is where I have to disagree - I think people who insist on driving their own cars should fund those who take public transport.

The government is trying to encourage public transportation - that puts less stress on roads and infrastructure, it causes less pollution and damage to the environment, and means roads are less congested.

Also, public transport is one of those funny things that actually gets better the more people use it.

Fares will go down, and you'd get more frequent services.

Replying to the comment from sejje:

It's called negative externalities - the free-market unfortunately doesn't account for all costs.

If I smoke a cigarette - I only pay for the cigarette - but it's those around me that also get sick from the second-hand smoke. That's why the government taxes them.

Likewise, if I buy a gas-guzzling SUV, which churns out black smoke to all my neighbours around - I only pay for the gas - but it's those around me that also suffer.

Basically, if we apply your logic, then we would live in a every-man-for-himself society, where we'd do whatever we could to get ahead, and not care about the impact on those around us.

Victor: that's not what he's suggesting. He's suggesting that an entirely separate party (drivers) pay for what others use (public trans).

Paying for what you use and a little extra to offset the negatives is still just paying for what you use.

Further, who pays for the roads the public transportation uses? I have a guess: drivers.

Why wouldn't you want to see it paid for by people who want to use public transportation?

I think people should pay for whatever they want to use.

The impact car emissions have on the working poor is far more costly and dangerous.

And I doubt raising the tax rate on fuel would do much at all, in America at least. Gas prices have gone up significantly over the last few decades and we drive more and more.


Can't reply because of HN time restrictions on long threads, but I think the reduction on driving is more due to cities and housing centers within cities getting denser - even Houston is doing that, and we've traditionally been very spread out. We still are, but it's improving.

Actually we drive less and less per person since ~2004. And the total Vehicular Miles Travelled has been the same since 2004, even though population is growing. This is a significant trend. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/07/yet-more-ev...

That's not really true. During the gas price spike a couple years ago I do remember several articles that showed that we drove a lot less when the prices were higher.

Only were that money guaranteed--guaranteed!--to go into public transportation projects (light rail, trolleys, etc.).

Is the notoriously sprawling America cyclable? Distances in the centers of old european cities are small.

In most cities I've lived, not really. I grew up in Florida and cities were not made accessible to those without cars.

Cape Coral, for instance, is just a huge, sprawling (mostly-vacant) city. You could probably manage to situate yourself with most of the things you need nearby, but you would still find the vast majority of the city inaccessible without a long ride.

It would probably terrible for all kind of prices. Since transportation, delivery and many things depends of oil :D

The surest way to kill a proposal in the US is to say "This is how they do it in Europe".

That's it? A paltry 40km/yr? I think I put like 5000km on mine in the past year just by commuting daily.

This isn't too surprising to me. I'm not sure how average americans perceive the tradeoffs, but biking where I live is incredibly dangerous.

Your yearly commute in micromorts is 311 versus 12 by car.


You (and I) keep that average up at 40 by balancing out all the bikes that get 0 km/yr.

I do 15,000km per year here in Utah. Even 188km per annum seems like maybe you don't need a bike because you could just walk.

Not how averages work :) (Maybe everyone only used their bike for a yearly 188 km ride. Or one woman rode 10,000 km and the rest 10 km. Etc.).

But then I do often use my bike to go 50 m, since it's faster and I can carry stuff on it.

That actually seems like a reasonable difference considering that outside of cities biking is only a hobby (and sometimes quite a dangerous one depending on infrastructure). And in America many commuters drive for over 20 minutes.

> outside of cities biking is only a hobby

I know what you're saying, so I'm sorry for being a little pedantic, but I just have to jump in and point out that there are MANY bike commuters in suburban and rural areas. I lived in Bloomington, Indiana for two years and biked 3 miles into town every day. It was incredible for my health and the countryside is just gorgeous. In many ways it was vastly preferable to my various urban commutes since then.

You're right that the infrastructure is often lacking, but you learn the tricks you need to get your errands done, and there are many of us out there every day building the critical mass to change that.

I would say that nowadays, if you live 3 miles from "town", then you really are not living in suburbia. Most commuters live at distances far greater.

From the second result in Google: "The average commute in miles for Americans is 16 miles and 26 minutes for one way"


This seems to be the usual retort anytime someone dares and propose a change in the insanity that is car driving in America. It is as if god personally swept down, laid out cities and then continued to crush their public transport systems.

In reality of course, these commute times are all of your own making. Just because politics in the 20th century designed cities a particular way doesn't mean it is now forever set in stone in the 21th.

These commute times are not your own making they are based on your salary, your priorities in housing (neighborhood, safety, price), and your work location.

There are plenty of times when it is too expensive to live near work.

There are plenty of times when housing near work is low income or unsafe.

To be fair though, there's nothing particularly difficult or slow about a ~20km commute with a good public-transport infrastructure.

Until recently I lived about 20km away from my work, and my commute took about 25-30min: 10min walking and 15min on the train. I found this a very nice and relaxing commute; being on public-transport means you can read / browse the web / zone out, and indeed it's a valuable unwind time for me (the walking time is also hugely beneficial in this respect). [The same trip by car takes about 30min with no traffic, or an indeterminate amount of time in typical rush-hour traffic...]

I wish Calgary had better public transport. As a Calgarian, my commute is 20 minutes by car, 58 minutes by bike, or 75 minutes by public transit.

Calgary is just silly large and special. My commute to the university is 30 minutes in good traffic by car. Mass transit implies about one and a quarter hours on the ctrain and twenty minutes on a bus. Plus waiting time.

In all honesty Calgary is a hopeless city. Consider Tokyo: https://maps.google.ca/?ll=35.637209,139.744034&spn=0.502803...

Now compare it to Calgary: https://maps.google.ca/maps?ll=50.988692,-113.841705&spn=0.3...

Keep in mind Tokyo is only the center of that metro area. Tokyo itself is 13M people. The full metro area is 35M! Meanwhile calgary is a mere 1M!

Calgary is just not scaling. If we tried to fit 35M people in Calgary the city limits would start hitting the Rockies! Just as CPUs are hitting limits on the speed of light Calgary is hitting limits on safe highway speeds. Mass transit could be improved but it cannot shrink the city.

I used to cycle 15 miles or so each way to work a few years ago. That place did have a fitness center w/ showers on campus, so it worked out ok (except having to get up an extra couple hours early). My current job just moved into a new building with a small fitness room and showers, so I may try it again next summer (about the same distance).

The best part was actually looking forward to my commute -- even though I only cycled about once or twice a week. Now I'm so far out of shape, it will take a few months of working out in the gym to get back to what I was doing (and hopefully my knees won't go out again).

I lived here: https://www.google.com/maps/preview#!q=rolling+ridge+way%2C+...

You can make of that what you will. I would call it rural.

I would not call that rural at all -- it's within the city limits.

The thing with Bloomington is that it's very bike friendly compared to most cities of similar size and there is a substantial cyclist population considering half of the town consists of students that have nowhere to park their cars.

Your average noncollege town isn't like Bloomington.

The numbers in the US are certainly dominated by people who don't bike. I imagine that's true in Europe also.

(40 km is not a particularly long ride for a recreational biker...)

Right, even the European average of 188km isn't very much, half a kilometer per day annually). Between commuting and running errands, I am riding about 500km per month (Portland, OR).

Thanks for the link. I skimmed through the article and found this bit of unit conversion amusing: "... compared with 40 km (87 miles) per year in the United States ..."

That's a shockingly low number of miles ridden per year. I will no longer think of myself as an underachiever on Strava :)

40km != 87 miles, as you note. This appears to be a transcription error in the article from an earlier 140km, and it should read 25 miles per year.

(at least, if the graph is correct)

I think they were using the kg to pounds factor!

those stats made me look up the distance I've ridden to date http://cl.ly/image/2u2r2a0T0X3s . I'd say 70% has been commuting and 30% other. i'm in Europe.

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