Dutch harness the wind for a bike-friendly highway

For the bike-loving Dutch, this could well mean the second coming of the windmill: Gusts of wind blasting a bicyclist through a tunnel.

TransGlide 2000 Bicycle Transit System is the Denver developer's Wall Street name for the concept. But for the Dutch towns of Helmond and Eindhoven it could simply mean: Ride with the wind.

If the concept ever sees the light at the end of the tunnel, it's likely to happen first in the Netherlands. Holland is not Cadillac-country. It's bike-nation. About 80 percent of the 15 million population own bicycles - cycling a combined 8.4 billion miles a year.

Milnor Senior says Helmond and Eindhoven are exploring the idea of linking their communities with the wind-assisted tunnel. Brussels, he says, also expressed interest. In the United States Mr. Senior proposes to test the system at a national park.

If installed, here's how it would work: A "transportation corridor," or tunnel, 25-feet wide and 13-feet high would be built over roadways or rail lines. Fans located above, below, or along the side of the bikeway would provide air movement or tailwind. The promoters of TransGlide estimate that 11 fans, with 150 horsepower, will do the job for a 10-mile tunnel.

The enclosed environment would also enable the cyclist to virtually bypass air resistance and achieve speeds of 30 m.p.h., using one-fifth the energy needed if the cyclist were outside.

The corridor would look much like a highway with exit ramps. It would be to bicycles what the highway is to a car - with some creative options. For instance, bicycles could be rented at either end of the tunnel. The big appeal, however, would be safety and a clean environment. The corridor would welcome pedestrians and joggers, too.

"Developing urban areas need low-cost, low-tech transportation solutions ... as an alternative to the environmental problems created by burning petroleum fuels," Senior says. "The products necessary to build and operate the system are available from existing manufacturers."

Construction costs for a TransGlide 2000 system are estimated at $8 million a mile compared to $60 million for a light-rail transit line. Despite the bicycle's long history, much of the research energy has been invested above the pedal: the seat, the handlebar, gears, tires. TransGlide, by contrast, looks at the roadway.

But wherever the concept ends up - as a novelty in Disneyland or a serious streetside option in the Netherlands - it draws attention to one big concern for bicyclists: safety and clean air.

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