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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 5.7.2009



Outdoors 2009

Dropping Down River: Living and hiking the Illinois

Wheels Up: Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities

River Talk: Barry Lopez and community on the McKenzie River

Canopy Climbers: Climbing trees isn’t just for kids anymore

Reading and Rambling: Take a hike, read a book

Bugs Attack! Insects indoors and out

Wheels Up

Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities

By Molly Templeton

If you’re at all inclined to bicycle riding, Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes’ engaging, thoroughly researched new book, Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities (OSU Press, $19.95), may spur you to new heights of two-wheeled transit. As I read, I kept setting aside the book to scour Craigslist for a new bike, check when Portland’s Bridge Pedal takes place or consider how long it would take me to bike to Valley River for a movie. If they can do it in Portland and New York, certainly I can do it here.

Mapes isn’t just concerned with the individual details of getting part-time riders like myself onto a bike more often, or with encouraging kids and commuters to feel safe pedaling themselves to school or work, though he does cover those topics. Much of Pedaling Revolution is focused on the bigger picture issue of what needs to happen in cities, suburbs and towns to encourage nonautomobile transportation. Mapes visits Amsterdam, Portland (where he lives), New York and Davis, Calif., with planners and bike advocates, investigating (often on a bike) what these cities have done and are doing to make their streets and paths inviting to potential cyclists. Issues of environmental and personal health naturally arise, and Mapes addresses them with an impressive array of statistics, making a case for biking as not just better for riders and the environment, but far safer than it might seem, even in a hectic place like New York City.

But Pedaling Revolution isn’t all planning officials and Naked Bike Ride enthusiasts (Critical Mass and other aspects of bike culture also get a good look). Somewhere between the two sits the average cyclist, the commuter not invested in transit plans or in being part of a bicycle counterculture. While biking is becoming a more accepted part of the cultural landscape, in less bike-friendly places than Portland (or Eugene), it’s still barely a blip on many people’s radar. Bike advocates hoping to get more former drivers onto two wheels are up against a car-centric culture that thinks nothing of speeding but berates bicyclists for coasting through stop signs (yes, even in Eugene). Mapes’ book, with its careful look at cities that have made great leaps toward bike-friendliness, is example, explanation and exploration; it makes an eloquent case for the environmental and physical benefits of pedaling everywhere, and it’s full of interesting characters who do just that. It’s as accessible as a good bike path, and a fascinating ride. — Molly Templeton