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The bike messenger

FULL disclosure: I've ridden a bike around New York as my principal means of transport for 30 years, so I'm inclined to sympathize with the idea that a cycling revolution is upon us.

Like Jeff Mapes, the author of "Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities," I've watched the streets fill over the years with more and varied bike riders.

That said, the revolution isn't here just yet. Hedge fund managers and General Motors executives aren't riding to work, and this book is not likely to reach beyond the already converted and people in the city-planning and transportation universe. But the book is useful - Mapes provides names, dates, facts and figures.

He details how cities from Amsterdam to Paris to New York have developed policies encouraging cycling in recent decades, and how other towns are just beginning to make way for bikes.

He lays out in an easily digestible way a fair amount of material on trip patterns, traffic safety and air pollution.

He quotes the relevant studies and shows how those studies have been either heeded or ignored. All this information is great ammunition for those who would like to see cities become more bike-friendly but may be a tough sell for the people on the fence - the ones who've taken the occasional Sunday ride along a riverfront greenway or in a park, or have a vague feeling that they might possibly bike to work somehow someday.

"Pedaling Revolution" is not all facts and figures. Mapes, a journalist who covers politics for The Oregonian, describes how he gained weight and started feeling a bit down when he was forced to exchange his 17-kilometer daily bike commute in Portland for a "super-sized, 80-kilometer" drive to the Legislature in Salem.

He argues that cycling promotion can raise society's level of general fitness, since people exercise more when it seems less like exercise and more like something mostly enjoyable that also performs a function, like getting to work.

"Bike and walking advocates," he writes, "have been rebranding their cause as 'active transportation,' which manages to come off as non-threatening to your average couch-bound American while carrying a nice touch of gravitas as well."

Mapes finds the experience of riding around Portland - North America's most bike-friendly city - so enjoyable that he takes as a given that it's a positive thing, something that more communities should accommodate without question.

But there's a lot of opposition.

The United States is as much a car culture as ever, even if the companies that helped make us that way are now in ruins.

And as Mapes points out, when more women begin riding, that will signal a big change in attitude, which will prompt further changes in the direction of safety and elegance.


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