Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Bikeway Concept - An Open Proposal To American Metropolises...

The dual battles of energy consumption and physical fitness in the face of today's extreme travel times and computerized office work are both extremely difficult to tackle. This was not lost on me as I was riding home on a train delayed by hours because of a hazardous materials spill on the tracks between my fellow passengers and I and home.

Most days on the train, everyone rides all stern-faced and silent, absorbed in their computer screens, Ipods, Walkman, magazines, books, and newspapers. It is a shock to most people on the train if anyone actually tries to engage them in conversation. Clearly, they are not riding the train for company, nor do they care to develop the sort of temporary connections that such conversations bring. They are on the train because it simply costs too much to drive.

So, here they sit, waiting to go into offices they will sit in, just as their counterparts on the congested, slow, and hazardous highways and side streets do. They spend hours helping to burn fuel and increase global warming, but "have no time" left after all the commuting to burn any fat through healthy exercise.

The other passengers and I, on our long, slow, agonizingly late train ride home that evening, finally got bored enough and had enough of an unusual circumstance to break the taboo. We actually started speaking to each other! We talked about the mess with the train, who had heard what, life, jokes, relationships. We laughed and we made lemonade out of the sour deal of our lost time. One of the discussions turned to wishing their was a better way to make use of the ride to and from work - how could we make it fun or useful?

Riding the train is a lumpy, bumpy, swinging, swaying proposition. The tracks throw the cars from side to side wherever the rails swerve in the least. One bit of curve to an otherwise straight track, and whoa! Good-bye, a half hour of typing. Trying to read is constant eye strain as the page moves all over the place and your eyes race to follow. Don't think writing in longhand is going to be very readable, either.

Meanwhile, that breakfast you didn't have time for isn't kicking up your metabolism, and the heavy, late dinner you had when you finally got home the night before just added to your body fat stores as you slept on a full stomach. It's like the whole commute game is stacked against you! So just what is a hard-driving-to-work American Commuter to do? Another weight episode on Oprah while sitting on the couch? I think there's a better idea.

How about a covered bicycle path that is downhill all the way to your destination? Think about that.

Exercise: These days, you can buy a gasoline motor for a bicycle that replaces the front wheel - the entire drive train is contained in the front wheel. The gas bottle goes in the bike's water bottle holder on the lower bar. So, here you are, you have a down hill run all the way from the suburbs to the heart of the city. You have elevators out in the burbs that lift you up onto the bikeway. You have exit ramps at each street just past the train stops. (The bikeway would be built over the existing railroads.) You pedal until you're tired, then kick in the gas motor and ride the rest of the way getting 80-100 miles per gallon. There you go, America - burning hundreds of calories on the way to work every day just by choosing to burn less gas.

The bikeway would be covered by an inexpensive roof made from recycled plastics now going into landfills. It would be fairly well vented on the sides, and the roofing could be covered with solar power cells to operate lights, side vents, or heaters, or the elevator systems.

People could always opt to ride the train or drive depending on their physical abilities, cartage needs, and personal preference. Still, the bikeway system would relieve traffic congestion, create jobs, reduce transportation fuel consumption, and improve Americans' physical health and longevity - thereby reducing health care costs in the USA. You can also bet that the first city to install such a system would benefit from a lot of extra tourism from people wanting to see or ride the bikeways. It's also likely to draw bicycling conventions and events.

As for creating jobs, the bikeway system would need maintenance workers, cleanup crews, and construction technicians. Additionally, it would encourage people to ride bicycles a great deal more, which would mean increased demand for bicycle production, replacement parts, inner tubes, and tires. High tech add-ons and mobile computing devices that made use of voice technologies and head up display style eyeglasses might be developed for the "connected bikeway rider." Could you imagine voice-writing a book while you bicycle into the city to work at the office or visit your publishing agent?

The whole concept appeals to a self-avowed Earth Steward, and to the child in us as well. I had great fun riding my bicycle when I was a child, and still do when I can find the time and a safe place to ride. Here's a way we can all have better lives while getting that fun back.

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