Pedaling Revolutions – a book review

7 02 2010

Pedaling Revolution – How Cyclists are Changing American Cities – a review

Over on the Drug Pedaler, Scotty once reviewed French Revolutions the book by Tim Moore about riding that year’s route of the Tour de France. I’ve been a fan of Tim Moore ever since I read Frost on My Moustache (including a description of a bike ride through the Icelandic wilderness and yes the title of book is from a very rude oral sex joke), and his Nul Points (where he visits all the zero point getters from the Eurovision Song Contest) is hilarious. And I just read a book about cycling so I thought I’d do a book review too.

I got Pedaling Revolution online from the Book Depository for a whole lot cheaper than ordering it at a New Zealand bookshop, and it arrived within a week. The book is by Jeff Mapes and published by the Oregon State University Press late 2009.

First up it is American and hence only the single l in pedalling. (Scott you have no excuse) Jeff Mapes is a political reporter, and the cut and thrust of some of the city politics might bore some of you. In some ways I reckon I’ve learnt more reading various bike blogs over the last few months than from reading the book. However it gave me an understanding of the Vehicular Cycling movement (probably pronounced with the extra syllable in vehicular in that peculiarly North American way). I went off and watched the youtube video he recommends to understand vehicular cycling –  The Rights and Duties of Cyclists – Bicycle Safety and learnt more about the arguments of John Forester, the main advocate for vehicular cycling. I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst to get those skills are great, I do want separated infrastructure and most people (especially women) probably do too. Even Mr Forester himself now that he is probably on a step through frame will be safer on separated infrastructure than in the dog eat dog world of a busy road.

Taking up a whole lane in New Zealand instead of staying left seems like a real good way of copping abuse.

I learnt more about the bicycle boulevard concept in use in Portland and in some Californian cities. That definitely is an idea that should travel to cities like Adelaide, Christchurch and Melbourne.

There are chapters on Davis, California and how the university shaped the city into being more bike friendly, but now as people working in Davis commute by car from other Sacramento area cities bikes are losing share to cars.

There are chapters on Portland and New York, and it seems things are improving for cyclists in both cities, but even in Portland still not many people bike. It takes a political angle each time introducing some local politicians and how a few get the ideas behind cycling as transportation, but for each one who gets it, there are a hundred who don’t. Most surprising was to find out that George W. Bush loved to ride his mountain bike around his Crawford Ranch (so he couldn’t have been too bad after all).

There is a chapter on infrastructure, a chapter on health, and a chapter on getting kids back on bikes.

It is an interesting read when taken in context, an American context, of urbanism old and new. For those completely untouched by the American experience I’d recommend the following books, The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, and the Los Angeles chapter, The City as Freeway, in Peter Hall’s Cities in Civilisation, or any of the tomes about New Urbanism, such as The Next American Metropolis by Peter Calthorpe.

This is just a segue to posting a photo of Seaside, Florida, the pin up town of New Urbanism. I thought I’d take a drive when I was working in Biloxi over to Seaside to see if I would learn anything about building towns by visiting. In the end I think I learnt more by what I saw on the way about how not to build. If it looks familiar Seaside was used I think in the Truman Show movie:

Seaside is a small place, and it is almost kind of pleasant to walk around. There are a few too many signs of what you can and cannot do. No photographing this building. No walking to this beach. No skateboarding. Blah, blah, blah.  A kid was skateboarding and he said to me “I suppose you are going to tell me not to skateboard” and I replied “Nup, keep on doing it. That sign is stupid and skateboarding is fun” and he said “You’re pretty cool. For an old person”.

Seaside didn’t really work as a real town, which was it’s stated aim, when all the rich geriatrics outpriced everyone else from the real estate market. So I didn’t really see a vision of the future, just a pretty curiosity. On the way, as I said, I did learn how not to build, with urban sprawl and strip malls from Pascagoula through the outskirts of Mobile, and Fort Walton Beach. Here’s some similar kind of geography of nowhere, on the corner of the 49 and the I-10 in Gulfport, Mississippi. How do you have a cycling revolution and make this kind of automobile-centric sprawl bike friendly?

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The older part of Pensacola would have been eminently bikeable:

and admittedly I only saw one person riding, but it was a Saturday afternoon so I can say there was a 100% modal share for bikes in downtown Pensacola that day. Everyone else was probably out at a mall by the freeway. They got there in their cars.

And the rail trail people have had a few successes in the South like here in St Tammany’s Parish in Louisiana going under the I-12.

and I had a cool bike that day (it’s very Eddie Munster-ish)

Pedaling Revolution is a book about a very few urban spaces in America. Those places are peculiar to the book, and the rest of the US doesn’t necessarily follow.

This 1958 video of the Magic Highway is still closer to the current wider reality, and I fear if there was a voter-led proposition more people would vote for one of those radioactive freeways than for a bike path.

Still I enjoyed the book and recommend it to you for a quick read. However I’d recommend Dottie and Trisha on Let’s Go Ride a Bike even more.

In other unrelated news:

The cartoon blog Recombinant Records has a new post about airconditioning.




4 responses

7 02 2010

Matty, I had no idea I used the American spelling! Oh well. Cool article though. And thanks for the link to The Drug Pedaler 😉

14 02 2010

Great post, I’ll be looking out for that book.

22 01 2012
Book review on Human Transit « Wellington Region Cycleways

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30 05 2014

I think this benefit is the most important and significant one.
Attach the electric supply controller box to the frame.
A larger motor will be needed on rocky or muddy roads and when you are riding against
a strong headwind. To prevent an injury-inducing spill, it is advisable
to jump over the bump by using a low hop maneuver.

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