Sunday, July 19, 2009

Not Just About the Bike

By Dave Rochlin - Originally posted on

Probably the coolest thing I saw in Amsterdam a couple of years ago was a multi-story parking garage at the train station...for bikes. Bikes are everywhere; they have their own protected lanes, and at rush hour, they rule. Car and bus drivers have to deal with it. It's amazing how many people will adopt an earth friendly practice like riding a bike when it is easy.

When I was in Paris last month (and yep, I'm offsetting the flight by supporting a Ugandan fair trade forestry project via ClimatePath), I noticed a different approach to encouraging biking - it's called "Velib". Velib is basically a Zip Car for bikes. You can pick up a bike at one of 1,400 parking kiosks around town, and drop it at another. I love the concept, but Paris streets remain scary and not very friendly to bike riders. Until that changes, I doubt this program will make much of a dent in traffic in the city of lights.

Public infrastructure change is crucial in supporting a lower carbon economy. You want less driving? Stop spending on roads and start subsidizing rail and expanding better coordinated public transportation. (Paris has an amazing, integrated rail and metro system, which costs $1.50 to ride.) More recycling? It's less about the CRV and more about making it easy to drop that bottle or can in a separate bin. (Paris scores low on that one.) In my home town, battery recycling went way up when a local community group organized drop off points and made it painless.

It's exciting to see some of the focus of the stimulus funds directed at smart grids, energy efficiency and other projects...but I wonder if a lack of shovel-ready infrastructure projects that create a permanent greenshift in our communities is a lost opportunity. The lesson is probably to be realistic about what it will really take to transform your community, but to still dream big.

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