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Pedal power to the people - ride on!The British government recently launched a £250-million strategy to introduce the electric car to mainstream London. The initiative, which includes citywide charging points, battery-swapping stations and hefty consumer incentives, is well-intentioned, but you won't see me signing up for an electromobile any time soon.
As it stands, there is only one convenient way of getting around the modern urban landscape, and that is the almighty bicycle.
Hopping on a bike is cheaper, faster, healthier, more pleasant and more environmentally sound than any other mode of transportation known to humankind. Old-fashioned as it might seem, cycling is the way of the future.
No need for initiatives or incentives here. People are way ahead of their governments on this one. The recent numbers are astonishing. Last year, the New York City department of transportation reported that, in 2007-08, bicycle commuting went up by 35 per cent. London is reporting a similar increase in the wake of the inner-city traffic congestion charge that was introduced a couple of years ago. Today, an estimated quarter of a million Londoners travel to and from work by bike.
Toronto - a city without the benefit of a year-round bike-friendly climate - is also on the upswing. Statistics Canada reported a 32-per-cent increase in pedal-pushers on the roads from 2001 to 2006 - and that was before the downturn.
As a committed lifelong cyclist, it's heartening to see so many people finally coming around to the same obvious conclusion. If you care about your health, the environment and your bank account and are physically able, biking just makes sense, full stop.
And yet in spite of its increased popularity, there are still a puzzling number of people who are resistant to cycling on the grounds that it's dangerous or impractical. In fact, though, London statistics show that the number of biking accidents actually goes down as the number of cyclists goes up.
In Germany, where bike riding is part of the normal culture, people are 10 times more likely to ride a bike than Americans and three times less likely to get hurt while doing so.
As Roger Gagne from Calgary, Canada has noted, though, pitting bikes against electric cars misses an important half-way technology. Electric-assisted bikes may be an excellent way forward for many people. (See http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090502.wstleah02art1349/CommentStory/lifeStyle/home#comment3498696 )