“Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities,” written by Jeff Mapes, has been read and reviewed for well over a year, but it is still worth a read and a mention more than eighteen months after its publication. This book is wonkiness at its finest. Mapes, whose professional credentials are primarily in political reporting, covers a wide range of bicycle and transportation-related topics, combining his journalism expertise and his personal commuting experience to construct an insightful and very readable account of the role of bicycles in society today.
There is something for every type of bicycle advocate in Mapes’ book. The topics are predictable: lessons from Amsterdam, the development of bike culture, barriers to entry, Portland (the platinum-status Bicycle Friendly City in which Mapes resides), and health and safety issues, to name a few. Fortunately, Mapes traveled extensively, researched thoroughly, and interviewed many knowledgeable people in order to provide a fresh and judicious analysis of these areas of bicycle advocacy. In each chapter, he effectively mixes data with his personal experiences in each situation. Although it is clear that he has opinions and preferences on given issues, he offers a balanced and informative description of each topic that he covers.
Here is an excerpt:
My own perspective shifted as I became comfortable maneuvering next to cars and trucks and my physical fitness began to improve. I joked about wearing a sign stating, “Ask me how I lost weight while commuting to work.” The political reporter in me — I’ve been one for three decades — began to wonder, what spurred the city to make these improvements? is the same thing happening in other cities? Can Americans really be seduced out of their cars in large numbers, at least for short trips?
My search for answers led me across the country, as well as to the Netherlands, the Mecca of American bike advocates. As I discuss in later chapters, there is no American Amsterdam … yet. But I did find that cyclists have become part of a much larger movement to reduce the dominant role of automobiles in American cities. imagine fewer parking lots and more public plazas. Think of urban neighborhoods that have the walkable ambience of an old European city, not wide streets and strip malls. Or maybe just the kind of street that is safe enough for kids to once again play in.
Every section focuses on one particular objective, and each chapter could be read independently of the rest and still be relevant and understandable. However, “Pedaling Revolution” as a whole provides an excellent depiction of how all of these issues work concurrently. In reality, every advocate or advocacy group gravitates towards one or two major issues, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether your cause is fighting for increased funding to support bicycle infrastructure or securing more dollars for Safe Routes to School programs, a focused effort is generally more effective than dabbling in a little bit of everything. But, all of these issues are inextricably linked. Creating a culture and a community that supports alternative methods of transportation necessitates an understanding of infrastructure, education (for adults and children), health and politics. Mapes provides an absorbing account of all of these facets at work from the saddle of a truly engaged bicycle advocate. “Pedaling Revolution” is an important read for anyone who is interested in any single area of advocacy as well as for anyone who is involved in community development, transportation initiatives or simply loves to ride a bike.