Bike infrastructure doesn’t make Americans happy…

…. or at least it doesn’t motivate them to use their bicycles.

My 2013 post: “Danish happiness: bicycle infrastructure”

From USA Today: “Fewer Americans bike to work despite new trails, lanes and bicycle share programs”

Uber and Lyft are blamed for part of the three-year decline. I wonder if it is the absurdly high price (compared to in China) of electric-assist bikes that is also limiting the popularity of this modality. The article notes that “electric scooters” have cut into bike commuting. If we could get a decent electric-boost bike for $300, would we still buy scooters? This industry report from 2014 says “By utilizing lead-acid batteries, the cost of e-bicycles in China averages about $167. In comparison, e-bikes in North America cost on average $815 and those in Western Europe average $1,546, reflecting the different choice in battery chemistry, according to Pike Research.”

Considering Americans’ propensity for thievery (how long does a bike last in San Francisco?), $167 is a more reasonable price to pay than $815!

The map in the USA Today article shows the sharpest declines in the hilly cities where an electric bike would be the most helpful.

Can we say that bike infrastructure, like socialism, hasn’t truly been given a fair chance in the U.S.? Our capital investments in bike lanes would pay off if e-bikes were available at Chinese prices?

11 thoughts on “Bike infrastructure doesn’t make Americans happy…

  1. WSJ reported spike in bicycle accidents in Manhattan, dedicated bike lanes notwithstanding. David Stockman and Bono are not alone. Safer in Uber or as pedestrian in congested US cities.

  2. Bicycle advocates tend to be younger, whiter and richer than the average, which may explain the smugness and preachiness.

    Here in San Francisco, where bike riders represent less than 5% of the car driving population, the city claims we can’t afford the $73M annual maintenance bill for fixing potholes without a bond measure, but has no problems finding $50M/year to paint bike lanes.

    Electric scooters are lighter and slower (i.e. safer for pedestrians) than bicycles. They are also cheaper, take less space and can be used by a larger segment of the population.

    Perhaps that’s why the SF Transit authority felt so threatened by scooter-share companies, banned them and then only permitted two irrelevant companies with a small enough number of scooters that did not risk shadowing the bike-share program endorsed by the powers that be.

  3. It’s not really surprising if you consider the three types of bike infrastructure projects in the US:

    1. Build a gold-plated bike path on top of a route that already sees heavy use. Credit that use to the new bike infrastructure.
    2. Build useless bike lanes as part of a traffic-calming project. It doesn’t matter if anyone uses them because they are just there to take space away from cars.
    3. Build useless bike lanes because they are mandated as a condition of using grant money on an unrelated public works project.

    “Build out the various missing links in the local/regional bike network” is something that really only happens by coincidence these days.

    (That being said, the census data used in the USA Today article probably isn’t very reliable and the method seems to generate a lot of unrealistic year-over-year swings. It’s really not as bad as it looks.)

  4. There’s not really any difference in the infrastructure used by bikes & scooters. The bay bridge still desperately needs a sidewalk. The electric scooter evolved from lead acid ones 15 years ago to boosted boards, hover boards, unicycles, onewheels, & now a basic lithium scooter that seems to be the easiest for everyone. Rent inflation is also pushing more people out of the cities & back to cars.

  5. As an occasional bike commuter in the suburbs, I would say that “bike commuting” is going to be a very hard sell in most suburbs. I wish it were otherwise, but reality intrudes.
    Obstacles to adoption include:
    – Weather – rain or extreme cold or heat makes this unappealing
    – Lack of dedicated bike paths which are actually _physically separated_ from 50 mph traffic. And voters are not inclined to pay for them, though they will pay for “paint striped” bike lanes, which add too little safety to bikes for your average person. Where they exist, the dedicated paths are shared with pedestrians, which doesn’t make for a very pleasant or safe riding experience.
    – Fear of getting hit by a car – too many drivers distracted or drunk
    – Most people prefer not to walk anywhere, let alone bike. Electric bikes _might_ help.
    – Distance – most destinations are miles away – cheap electric bikes might help here, but it’s still basically a slow way to get around, compared to a car.

    I love my biking commute, but I don’t think the above factors are going to change any time soon, keeping our bike commuters at work well (far) under 1%.

    • > Lack of dedicated bike paths which are actually _physically separated_ from 50 mph traffic.

      This is the the #1 factor for me, and why I’ve never cycled for commuting in the US, Canada, or Australia. Cycling in Europe feels infinitely safer, because you’re typically on the opposite side of a physical barrier (a kerb at worst, sometimes a wall) from automobile traffic.

      > And voters are not inclined to pay for them, though they will pay for “paint striped” bike lanes

      And frankly, the amount being spent on painted lanes should easily buy separate kerbs. Another victim of cost disease.

  6. Looking at AliExpress, the chineese go to megasite, I don’t see prices anywhere near that low. A hub motor alone may cost $100 or more. I wonder where does the 167 number come from. The usatoday’s imagination?

  7. Here in Japan electric bicycle start at about $1,000. I was going to get a kit from China to add to my bicycle, and hire someone to install it. What I learned was:

    — The kit would be illegal because it hadn’t been certified.

    — The certification is not something simple, like measuring the horsepower. It’s an involved set of tests that has to be done after paying a hefty price to a regulatory nonprofit. The nonprofit is a scam that employs retired cops in sinecures. These kind of employees are called amakudari, and this kind of scam permeates Japanese society in the form of licensing and other rent-seeking requirements

    — Getting caught with an illegal electric bicycle could result in its confiscation, and if you were in an accident with it you could be arrested. Any injuries you sustain would not be covered by the national health insurance.

    — Bridgestone and Panasonic are pretty much the only choice, and their offerings are horrible, mostly aimed at young mothers who shop on them with their kids in front and rear seats. There are one or two foreign companies that are trying to enter the market, but their prices start more at $5,000.

    — For a healthy male, riding an electric bicycle is considered the height of pussyness.

    • “For a healthy male, riding an electric bicycle is considered the height of pussyness.”

      And should be! Unless you have a very long commute (say, above 15 km or 30 min of riding) there is absolutely no excuse for having an e-bicycle instead of a regular bicycle. People, get off your sedentary lives and exercise on your way to work, instead of getting an e-bicycle to avoid the exercise you should be doing!

      Being a regular bike commuter for more than 10 years, it really annoys me the emergence of a new class of bike guys fully clad in lycra and riding electric bicycles.

  8. The brightly colored rental ebikes I see around have some kind of technology for locating and charging them. This must also somehow be thwarting Americans’ propensity for thievery. Or maybe it isn’t? Why can’t that same technology (the theft-preventing part) be used for personal ebikes?

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