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Freewheeling: Bicycling and the art of being broke

Elly Blue, Grist
More and more of us have less and less money these days.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you don’t need money to do, and bicycling is one of them.

When you’re broke, a bicycle can help a lot. Financially, for starters. Cars are expensive beasts. If you make less than $70,000 a year, you probably spend almost 20 percent of your household income on transportation. That’s more than you spend on food.

But bicycling also has lots of other benefits — the kind that shouldn’t have anything to do with money, but that are all too elusive when you have none. Health. Lack of stress. Community. Fun. Joy. Civic participation. Bicycling makes you feel free, and when you feel that way you believe that more is possible.

So here’s a short guide to bicycling through the new, not-so-great Depression.

In true Depression style, your first step is to not buy anything.

There’s a good chance you already have a bike in your household — most people do. Grab it! If you don’t have a bike in your house, borrow one from a family member or neighbor, preferably someone who’s about your height.

Borrowing will save you from buying a bike you hate, one that will fill you with guilt whenever you walk past it to the car or the bus stop. It will teach you what you do and do not want out of a bike. It will remind you that you have generous friends.

This is the seventh column in a series focusing on the economics of bicycling.
(23 May 2011)

Driving the Limit: Wealthy Nations Maxed Out on Travel?

Josie Garthwaite, National Geographic News
Is the road trip over?

No matter what happens when summer vacation season kicks off this weekend—and indications are car travel will be down—researchers now think the world’s most developed nations might have put the brakes on travel. Or, at least, on personal travel fueled by petroleum.

In the United States, Germany, Japan, and other countries that rank among the world’s wealthiest, there are signs that driving has reached a kind of saturation point.

Until now, most projections for future energy use and transportation needs have taken for granted that there will always be more people owning more cars, driving farther and using more oil. But those assumptions are being put to the test by a profound change under way in the countries that have long been the world’s biggest fuel consumers. And it goes beyond the payoff that is already being realized from government fuel economy efforts, like the U.S. government’s announcement today of enhanced consumer labeling to promote efficient vehicles.

“The flattening of total per capita travel over so many countries has never been experienced,” wrote Stanford University professors Adam Millard-Ball and Lee Schipper in research published earlier this year. Pointing to data they say suggests that driving has been tapped out for reasons beyond the economic slowdown or the price of gasoline, their paper asks whether some parts of the world have reached “peak travel.”

Although many energy-watchers agree that such a trend appears to have taken hold in wealthy nations, they know that this shift will not solve the world’s energy problems or slash fuel prices. While developed countries are becoming more efficient, those gains could be steamrolled by demand for oil in fast-developing nations like China, India and Brazil.

Still, the trend is important because it suggests that there may be a way—through government policy or international effort—to halt growth in oil consumption without causing economies to tank.

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.
(25 May 2011)

Life in the slow lane… how drivers can put a brake on the world’s petrol crisis

Gary Haq, Yorkshire Post
AS the Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use. This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should Britain do the same?

The Spanish government has reduced the speed limit on main roads from 75mph (120 km/h) to 68mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to reduce fuel use. This has been in response to the unrest in Libya and concern that it will spread elsewhere in the Arab world. Spain is dependent on imported oil, with about 13 per cent coming from Libya.

The reduction in the speed limit is part of a wider package of measures to reduce energy use. As people spend more money on foreign fuel, they have less to spend on buying products made in Spain which could slow the recovery of the Spanish economy.

However, critics see lowering the speed limit as a desperate measure and are sceptical it will achieve the savings the Spanish government claims.

US President Richard Nixon took similar action in 1973 in response to the oil crisis then. He introduced a speed limit of 55mph (90 km/h) in 1974 in a bid to reduce fuel consumption by 2.2 per cent.

The measure only achieved a fuel saving of about 0.5 per cent but had the additional benefit of reducing road deaths. In contrast, France tested the strict enforcement of speed limits on main motorways in 2004 and achieved a 19 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In the UK, petrol now costs on average about £6 a gallon. However, rather than reducing the speed limit, the Conservative-led coalition has actually talked about increasing it.
(24 May 2011)

New report and map chronicles the visceral reality of 47,000 preventable pedestrian deaths

Stephen Lee Davis, Transportation for America
The 2011 edition of our pedestrian safety report is out today, looking back on the 47,000 people that were killed and 688,000 injured while walking our nation’s streets in the ten years from 2000-2009. Dangerous by Design 2011 examines the problem and several solutions for the epidemic of preventable deaths that far too many have simply accepted as matter of course.

This edition of our national report, along with data and a report or factsheet for all 50 states, comes with a powerful visual: this year, we’ve taken the pedestrian fatalities from 2001 to 2009 that have location data (all but about 5 percent) and plotted them on an interactive map, allowing you to take a look at the streets and roads near you to see how safe or unsafe they may be. Test it out.

Type an address and once the map draws, click on any point to see the available information about the victim, the date, the location, the street type and even what the road looks like via Google Street View. Here’s a sample from Orlando, rated the #1 most dangerous metro area in the country.
(24 May 2011)