MPG of Bicycles and Walking

einstein_bike Tom Murphy of Do the Math walks us through a topic that’s as crucial to the future of progressive, science-and-communications aided, modern society as anything could be: the comparative energy efficiency of human muscled-powered locomotion.

Corporate capitalism presumes the continuation — and, hence, the sustainability — of present mobility arrangements in at least its core areas. Under that arrangement, a large percentage of everyday, local-area travel is accomplished via automobile. This is due to the unique demand- and profit-stimulating effects (read: wastefulness) of cars-first transportation orders.

From an energy point of view, cars-first transportation means that fueling automotive engines is a major bottleneck for normal social existence. As such, the obvious question is how well does and could the cars-first arrangement compare to its major alternative, the reconstruction of towns and cities to encourage bicycling and walking?

Tom Murphy’s conclusion: On a diet of normal, mixed foodstuffs (rather than pure lard or some other means of maximizing the energy density of the comestible), short-distance bicycling yields an MPG equivalent of 290, or about 6 times the energy efficiency of a Toyota Prius. Walking, meanwhile, delivers about 160 MPG.

There is, Murphy says, one fly in the ointment here: the energy intensity of current agricultural and food delivery arrangements. Factoring that in, Murphy figures that the MPG of cycling drops to 130 and that of walking to 34.

einduh So, even without altering the food system (via increased organic farming, localization of supply chains, moves away from food processing/packaging, improvement of the veggie/meat intake ratio, etc.), bicycles are almost four times more energy efficient than Priuses, and walking is right in the same ballpark. A blend of the two — surely a main feature of any genuinely sustainable, modern human future — would be far more energy efficient than any conceivable cars-first arrangement.

(All this, of course, leaves aside the question of the energy required to build and maintain the infrastructures involved. Cars-first requires huge streets, large parking areas, scattered building patterns, and gigantic, ornate fuel-delivery processes. Muscles-first living would imply much smaller streets, less need for parking, dense building patterns, and comparatively simple fuel-delivery processes.)

Muscles-first would, of course, also be a far healthier arrangement: Using one’s own body, rather than 3,000-pound electrical or fossil-fuel combusting machines, to achieve the desired movements, would have radically positive impacts on public health, as would the accompanying reduction in exposure to the chemicals and large collisions involved in cars-first living and breathing.

Need we mention which society would be more fun and sociable and sane?

Would That it Were So…

foil hat It’s mildly entertaining to watch the right wing in the United States lose the rest of what little was ever there in terms of its mind. Certainly, their ability to say the most ridiculous things and still obtain some news coverage goes far toward showing the continuing usefulness of Herman and Chomsky’s classic, Manufacturing Consent.

Dan Maes, the Republican-Wing-of-the-Business-Party’s candidate for Governor of Colorado, is apparently going around saying that pro-bicycle activism is not only an effort to — horror of horrors! — influence “the attitude” of our fellow citizens, but also “part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.”

Yes, please!

Meanwhile, the perpetuation of cars-first transportation is, of course, held by Maes to be the very embodiment of personal freedom and, one supposes, a timeless and undiscussable requirement of democracy.

Ivan Illich on Bikes v. Cars

cyclist Ivan Illich was certainly one of history’s greatest Catholic priests, right up there with Bartolome de las Casas, Oscar Romero, and Gustavo Gutiérrez.  Take a look at what Illich had to say about the sanity of cars-first transportation, and you see why the CIA spied on him and tried to have him ex-communicated by Rome: [Footnote: Illich was still using sexist pronouns in 1978]

The model American devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it.

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.

The obvious alternative?

[A]bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well. The bicycle lifted man’s auto-mobility into a new order, beyond which progress is theoretically not possible.

Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems.

Physically Separated?

One logical effect of the corporate capitalists’ century-long cars-first transportation dictatorship in America has been the thorough intimidation of even its most ardent critics.  With that in mind, see if you can guess what the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition agrees to call the reality depicted in this photograph:

To quote the SFBC:

According to a press release issued today by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, “Responding to the growing interest in bicycle transportation, the city began installing its first physically separated bike lane on Market Street today.

“Physically separated”? From 3,000-pound rolling metal boxes?  Seriously, SFBC?  Looks like even the slightest, most feathery concessions can bowl you right over.

Meanwhile, the DoubleSpeak involved in U.S. transportation planning rolls merrily along, aided by even the would-be reformers.

Portland Bike Plan

I live in Portland, Oregon, which receives tons of praise for being the “Amsterdam of the United States,” meaning the best place to ride a bicycle for actual transportation.

This shows how pathetic our expectations are in this society, since Portland, Oregon, USA is a damned dangerous and unfriendly place for cyclists.  It is 99 percent given over to automobiles-über-alles.  This contrasts with the 99.8 percent rate for the rest of the nation.

birally Last week, however, the real and growing anti-car, pro-bicycle grassroots movement here succeeded in pressing the Portland City Council to pass (though not to fully fund, of course) the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.

If enacted, this plan would divert $600 million of the city’s future transit spending into construction of cycling infrastructure, with the stated goal of having 25 percent (i.e. one percentage point less than prevailed in Amsterdam circa 2001) of all Portland commuting done via bike by 2030.

The opponents of this plan?  The usual suspects: the Portland Business Alliance, and the local right-wing, corporation-pimping capitalist-libertarian flak tank, a.k.a., the Cascade Policy Institute.

Neither of these leading lights concedes the first iota of the idea that cars-first transportation is going to burn up the planet’s petroleum supply in the next few decades.  Citizens should remember this for future reference.

Meanwhile, the Portland Business Alliance continues its fine tradition of asking for things simply because it wants things, the planet, the city, and the people be damned:

We urge that investments made in pedestrian and bicycling modes will be considered in coordination with other modes with the intention of improving the overall operation of the transportation system, and we encourage added language making that clear.