Pedaling to save 77,000 barrels a day

The law says: "Congress recognizes that bicycles are the most efficient means of transportation." Who are we to defy the law? This being National Bycycling Day, as proclaimed by the President, let us consider the case made by the Department of Transportation for saving oil by riding bicycles. the prize is an estimated saving of as much as 77,000 barrels a day by 1985 -- or a modestly whopping 23.5 million barrels a year.

How to get there from here is described in DOT's congressionally mandated report, "Bicycle Transportation for Energy Conservation," just issued with the riders pictured in these columns on its cover. If only Dr. Paul Dudley White were here to see the growth in the bicycle interest he pioneered with his Committee for Safe Bicycling.

Proposals for imrpoved safety measures quite properly have a central place in the DOT report. If bicycles proliferate at the projected rate, it will become increasingly important to provide the safety training, facilities, and enforcement that now are all too often neglected. American bicyclists frequently seem to be trying to have the best of both wolrds, sometimes thinking of themselves as cars on the highway and sometimes as pedestrians riding through lights when "walk" flashes. Those whom the shoe fits ought to change. And so should the motorists who are not yet ready to grant bicyclists the right of one-vehicle-one-vote on the public thoroughfare.

But safety deficiencies are only one of the obstacles to increased bike transportation identified by DOT. There are also such deterrents as lack of street provisions for bicycle use, lack of knowledge about good routes, and a general low level of awareness and acceptance of bicycle transportation by potential cyclists and motorists.

To reduce the obstacles, DOT is taking steps to ensure everything from the Coast Guard considering provisions for bicycle access to bridges -- to federally aided urban transportation projects including assessments of impact on bicycle use.

The potential results? In 1975 an average of 470,000 Americans commuted to work by bicycly on any given day. Analysis showed that, with factors such as the removal of obstacles taken into account, the total could have been 3.8 million. so a goal of 1.5 million to 2.5 million bicycle commuters by 1985 does not seem unreasonable. Add increased bike use for shopping and so forth and the reduction in auto use brings the oil savings to the range of 55,000 to 77,000 barrels a day.

But is it realistic? Take a look at your city streets. There seem to be more bikes than before on ours. Not all that many years ago the bicycling employees in our own organization were few enough to be a novelty, chaining their steeds to a fence. Then bicycle racks -- and more bicycle racks -- became necessary. In the past couple of years the number of riders has gone up by 50 percent to perhaps a hundred.

We don't demand quite the devotion of a girl cycling in the rain the other day who said it was better that way, "without all the dust." But surely "the most efficient means of transportation" is worth a try.

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