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4.7 out of 5 stars
Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2009
A few confessions. First, I fall into the ideal reading demographic for this book. I own bikes. I ride bikes. And I am very interested in transportation issues, particularly as they pertain to bicycles. When Tom Vanderbilt's extraordinary book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) came out, the first thing I did with it was turn to the index and look up all the references to bicycles. (You say "nerdy" and I say "wonky"!)

And I live in the American Mecca (or "Amsterdam") of bicycling, namely Portland, Oregon, as does author Jeff Mapes.

But my most dramatic confession is this: I'm only halfway through Pedaling Revolution. (Eep.)

But at this point in the journey, the rest of the book could be printed in Swahili (I have nothing against the language, besides being unable to read it) and this would still be a five-star read. Why? Well, in a general sense, Mapes has done a fine job of giving me a historical context for the evolution of the bicycle in our society. Fair enough, but surely other books do the same?

They do. But Mapes brings a professional journalist's chops to this assignment. He peppers his account with interviews and human interest angles, and he knows the value of both a well-placed anecdote and statistic. To put it crudely, while Mapes' research was clearly Herculean, he doesn't let you see him sweat.

I'll be back to edit this review upon book's completion, but here are a few specifics that stick out in my mind this far:

By one UCLA professor's estimate, the sum total of all the parking spaces in the U.S. take up an area about the size of Connecticut. (Remember, that doesn't count roads!) Ouch.

Suffragette Belva Ann Lockwood (she twice ran for president in the late 1800s) was often spotted pedaling around Washington D.C. on her largish tricycle. As she said, "A tricycle means independence for women, and it also means health."

Along the lines of quotable quotes, try this one on for size: "The more I think about U.S. domestic transportation problems... the more I see an increased role for the bicycle in American life." George H.W. Bush, U.S. ambassador to China, 1975
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2009
This is a very well written and readable book. As others have noted, it is interspersed with a interviews, anecdotes, and other journalistic elements that make for an entertaining read. For a non-fiction book on a relatively narrow topic like bicycling, it's certainly a page turner. I am already an avid bicyclists and a proponent of utility bicycling, but I am also a suburbanite in the not-so bike friendly South-east US. At first this book had me day-dreaming about living in Portland or Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but by the end I am inspired to engage in my own community for more liveable bicycle friendly streets in Charlotte, NC. Thank you Jeff.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 25, 2009
The author, not a hard-core cyclist by any stretch, after discovering in the 1990s that his city, Portland, OR, had a substantial bicycle network of roads and paths, began commuting on his bicycle to his job as a political reporter located only a few miles from his home in central Portland. His dedication to bicycle commuting led to this investigation of the extent to which bicycles have become utilitarian vehicles in other cities. The book looks at individual commuters as well as support structures and agencies that facilitate commuting by bicycle. While bicycle commuting is noticeable in some cities, it is an overstatement to say that a bicycling revolution is taking place in the US.

In reality, a few cities in the US, some small, some large, most with special demographic and geographical circumstances, all with concerns of congestion and environmental degradation, and, most importantly, the coincidence of having cycling-centered officials in city planning and transportation departments, have been able to make cycling safer and more enjoyable through a variety of measures such as creating bike lanes along existing roads, improved signage, and in some cases special bikeways. However, the author admits that the peak of bicycle ownership in the US actually occurred in the 1970s. The percentage of commuter trips on bicycles, even with recent upticks, still remains quite small in these few locales. The author does not squarely face the fact that, in the current architecture of American communities, places of work, living, and shopping are not co-located, which makes bicycle usage most impractical. There is no getting around the fact that our communities and lives are integrally tied to the automobile.

The author reviews key legislation and programs, ranging from the federal down to the city level, which facilitate bicycle commuting. Perhaps the key legislation was The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, since renewed, which required state DOTs to designate a bicycle coordinator. In addition, supporters in Congress, like Rep Jim Oberstar from Minnesota, remain essential. Of more interest is the author's visits to various locales both in the US and Europe to see bicycle commuting in action. Nowhere in the US do cyclists come close to the standing that they have in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. A culture of sharing the roads exists in those places to such a degree that observing formal traffic rules, like stop signs and one-way indicators, seem to be beside the point for a safe, smoothly functioning system. In fact, helmets are seldom used, attesting to the confidence that bicyclists have in their system. Of course, speed limits within these cities are on the order of 30 km/hr or 19 mph.

In the US, small to medium-sized college towns are the most likely candidates for being bicycle-friendly, if for no reason other than most students do not have cars. Davis, CA is the foremost example with Boulder, Berkley, Eugene, and Madison being other bike-friendly cities. Madison has the added advantage of being home to several bicycle companies including the renowned Trek company. The author focuses on Portland and NYC as examples of large cities in various stages of being or becoming bicycle-friendly. Of course, Portland has achieved a great deal more than NYC, being of far more manageable size and having started decades ago in planning a bicycle network. NYC efforts are really in their infancy, though there has been a considerable shift in thinking regarding cyclists. Cities need to be attractive to prospective, educated residents for economic viability; Louisville has added bicycling infrastructure for just that reason. Some of the smaller cities mentioned, under strictures of contained growth, have become high-priced enclaves that, ironically, attract well-to-do newcomers who commute by driving to larger cities. In essence, that unexpected development is a setback to the bicycling movement.

Other topics are covered, such as the need to get kids riding bikes again and the obvious health benefits of cycling. These discussions are overloaded with too many programs and officials. In addition, the squabbling among bicycle activists becomes rather obscure concerning the relative merits and hazards of separate bikeways, bike lanes along existing roads, and simply sharing streets. Interesting terms like "bike boxes" or "road diets" are introduced. The author seems to be overly taken by bicycling as a counterculture and the various mass participation events involving bicyclists. The once-a-month Critical Mass rides held in such places as San Fran and Portland, where hundreds of cyclists ride through city streets effectively stopping automobile traffic, are a questionable, annoying tactic that is waning. And there is bike theater, like the Portland Nakid bike ride, which is no doubt entertaining, but more significantly indicates that the bicycling community in Portland will not be ignored.

The book is a nice overview, though hardly comprehensive, of the existence and possibilities of practical bicycling in the US. It is not concerned with bicycling as a sport. The book is more hopeful than realistic concerning the prospects for sufficient support, primarily from governments, to sustain steady growth in practical bicycling. Being able to point to a few positive examples of bicycling does not signify a thoroughgoing movement. The vast majority of bicyclists in the US have no real possibilities of cycling in environments like those of Portland or Davis. Most state and local DOT officials have little interest in making communities safe for bicyclists. For example, instead of wide shoulders or bike lanes along highways, bicycle-prohibitive rumble strips are installed. In most locales, the populace is not clamoring for infrastructure to support bicycling.

The book is interesting from the standpoint of what can exist for cyclists but is also frustrating because it differs so drastically from what most cyclists experience and there is the perception that the author is insufficiently aware of just how unusual his example cities are. In addition, it's not totally clear as to whom the book is targeted: potential cyclists or planners. As typical for a reporter, there is factual overkill which makes the book seem somewhat like a policy or program manual. Real cyclists get shoved to the background in this account.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2009
More than likely, most folks who pick this book up commute to work on their bike and make it to Critical Mass every month or so. Jeff isn't going to turn any suburbanite SUV drivers into fixie hipsters...but that's not the point.

I live in a city with a bike culture in its infancy. It's inspiring to read of how bicycles have been integrated into other cities; to learn from both the success and failures of others.

If you've been a regular reader of Bicycling Magazine, Dirt Rag, or even the Associated Press, then you'll probably have a few moments of deja vu: "Wait a minute, haven't I read this before?" Jeff is a professional journalist, and so the themes, if not content, of his shorter works have been recycled and collected into a larger tome.

I haven't finished "Pedaling Revolution" yet. The book was just so darn good that I had to get out and ride my bike!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2009
This is a must read. This book provides a great perspective of what can and should be done to support alternative transportation. Other countries are so far ahead of where we are in terms of thinking holistically about bike transportation. Cycling has benefits far beyond the obvious health and transportation benefits. Read the book and you'll see. After reading this book, I feel the mass media and the government has significantly short-changed the cyclists who have endangered their lives to help support alternative transportation. Next time you see a cyclist, instead of thinking why are they going so slow and get out of my way, you should be thinking why didn't I do that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I have been an active road cyclists for 4 years now. I am in my Mid-20's and found this book inspirational, progressive, and a bible for bicycling advocacy. The book starts a little slow, but builds up quickly. Mapes, really focuses on the North Western European countries on how they re-invented the way people think about transport.

Mapes, really focuses on the American addiction to the automobile, and how cities, and countys build out rather than up, build roads, rather than bike boulevards. This book is clearly a revolution to the future of what America should be. The big question is, when is it going to start? Mapes and I would probably agree when the next oil price surge is when the next revolution will happen. Just remember to bring your big red flag.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2009
Anyone who rides a bike to commute, train, race or just enjoy time outdoors should have this book. It's well-researched and well-written. Author Jeff Mapes has done what geographically disconnected but well-meaning blogs cannot: tell the definitive U.S. story of the cycling movement, educate readers, and entertain them. "Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities" is a must-have for any cyclist.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2009
I am a member of a group trying to develop a cycling culture in our town. This book talks about what has worked and not worked in towns and countries all over the world. It seems to be very comprehensive in reviewing the culture and the bicycling leaders from 1900 to the present in the US. The author is a bit wordy and often goes on tangents. However, the basic information you need is there!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Jeff Mapes habite à Portland (Oregon). Son étude sur la « Révolution à Pédales » n'est donc pas un hasard : cycliste lui-même, il se trouve habiter la seule grande ville des Etats-Unis à avoir reçu la plus haute distinction décernée par la « League of American Bicyclists » aux villes qui mettent en aeuvre des programmes spécifiques destinés à favoriser l'utilisation du vélo. A travers une multitude d'exemples choisis dans des cités américaines de toute taille, Mapes cherche donc à comprendre les raisons et l'impact de la « culture cycliste » sur le paysage urbain dans un pays plutôt réputé comme étant le royaume de l'automobile. Pour l'auteur, il faut bien en effet parler d'une « culture cycliste ». Celle-ci serait issue à la fois de la contre-culture des années 1960 et du souci environnemental qui apparaît dans les années 1970 avec les « chocs pétroliers ». Au-delà des chiffres annuels de vente de vélos qui montrent une croissance irrégulière mais certaine à partir de 1973, on assiste pendant la même période à la naissance d'un véritable « lobby cycliste » qui regroupe des activistes comme la « League of American Bicylists » et des industriels du secteur. Dès les années 1980, on voit l'apparition dans des grandes villes de rassemblements plus ou moins organisés de cyclistes qui parcourent le centre-ville aux heures de fort trafic pour attirer l'attention sur l'utilisation grandissante du vélo en ville et les risques que courent les cyclistes (le phénomène a débuté à San Francisco, ville dont la topographie n'induit pas un usage facile du vélo). En effet, s'il n'y a pas d'augmentation de l'utilisation du vélo au niveau national, il y a bien apparition d'une culture urbaine spécifique et « utilitaire » du vélo comme moyen de déplacement individuel à bas coût et sans impact sur l'environnement.

Le principal intérêt du livre de Jeff Mapes est de montrer comment se fait jour progressivement le débat sur le partage de l'espace public urbain entre les différents modes de transport, ou comment le vélo fait irruption dans l'espace politique. Le vélo vient en effet troubler la répartition claire entre les voitures (sur la chaussée) et les piétons (sur le trottoir). C'est pourquoi certains refusent d'abord purement et simplement le droit aux vélos d'utiliser la chaussée. Rapidement cette notion de partage de l'espace fait apparaître deux notions qui, ensemble, forment un cercle vertueux et paradoxal. Il faut une masse critique de cyclistes pour que les automobilistes réalisent qu'ils doivent partager la rue ; la création de voies cyclables séparées entraine un accroissement du trafic cycliste. L'offre de sécurité crée donc la demande de vélo, en retour cette demande croissante améliore la sécurité de tous les usagers par la réduction de la vitesse du trafic qu'elle impose aux automobiles. Ce débat est entériné en 1991 par l'adoption d'un certain nombre de lois fédérales qui transfèrent la gestion des fonds fédéraux et du planning des transports des états aux aires métropolitaines en leur accordant une certaine liberté dans l'utilisation de ces fonds. Ces lois créent également des fonds spéciaux destinés à la création de voies piétonnes et cyclables (23M$ en 1992, 427M$ en 2004), ainsi qu'un poste de responsable « cycles et piétons » dans chaque état.
Jeff Mapes montre également comment des villes investissent dans cette culture « cycliste » pour se créer une nouvelle image, destinée à attirer une nouvelle population de cadres jeunes et à haut niveau d'études. Ainsi Louisville (Kentucky) qui ne peut prétendre être un foyer de contre-culture a entrepris un programme de création de pistes cyclables, de reconfiguration de ses principales artères pour les rendre accueillantes à tous les modes de transport. Pour le maire de cette ville, ce qui importe, c'est de mettre en avant la qualité de vie qui règne à Louisville, et ainsi attirer cette population à haut niveau d'études qui représentent l'économie de demain. Dans un ouvrage récent , l'urbaniste Christopher Leinberger avait montré le changement qui s'opère aux Etats-Unis d'un « drivable urbanism » vers un « walkable urbanism ». Jeff Mapes montre qu'il faut désormais parler également d'un « cyclable urbanism ».
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on April 18, 2012
"Pedaling Revolution" inspires!

As much as he explores the history of bicycling and where it stands today in the constellation of transportation options, Jeff Mapes enthusiastically practices what he preaches. He's a regular, long-time bicycle commuter as well as a recreational rider.

Compared to Davis, Portland, Madison, Evanston, Cambridge and Boulder, to name several meccas of American bicycling, most of the country is still sadly behind in promoting, encouraging and making bicycle commuting a realistic option. Mapes is not just talking trips to and from work but trips to the grocery store, the library, school, to a park, to see friends, errands of any sort, the bicycle could transform life for many of us. Bicycle travel is cheap, convenient and non-polluting. Now, if only bicycling could be safer from the car and truck and the bicycle, more secure from weather and the bicycle thief!

Mapes provides a vision for where bicycle transport could take us in the next decades. He tags suburban sprawl-type development as perhaps the greatest enemy of bicycle travel. Sprawl makes us separate and more distant from destinations we would like to reach.

Cul-de-sac-style subdivision development precludes efficient destination bicycling. The grid system works so much better. The dominance of major arterials, collector-class roadways which concentrate high volumes of motorized traffic at high speeds, these are barriers to road-riding bicyclists.

Mapes mentions "Bicycles Belong," an organization dedicated to bicycle travel on streets. The philosophy of "bicycles belong" ought to be an essential aspect of the traffic planning process in every jurisdiction.

There is growing support for "Rail Trails," and other forms of dedicated trails for bicycle and pedestrian use. Where these exist, some dually work as commuting routes but most have as their primary niche, recreational riding.

Mapes persists and makes the case that bicycles belong on streets and roads and that much could be done to better accommodate them. Side benefits would reduce the volume of motorized traffic, save gas, reduce pollution, promote personal health and community well-being.

"Pedaling Revolution" gets five stars!
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