Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A cycle of dependence ... or freedom?

If I'd asked when we had our first oil crisis, what would you have answered? I didn't have a clue. In fact the continued sloppy safety and extraction standards and massive spills would make you think there wasn't a looming shortage. (Some information about Peak Oil here and Fracking and Fossil Fuels here.)

It turns out the first oil crisis was in the 1970's, less than a hundred years after oil had begun to be widely used as a source of energy for cars. It's interesting to learn that the Netherlands used this shortage and an accompanying economic crisis as an opportunity to challenge the growing assumption that the car was the ideal mode of transport.

In the years since the second world war, cycling had become marginalised and the car had become King, with the demands for ever increasing roads, parking lots and infrastructure. Traffic deaths, including those of cyclists had increased massively and cities were becoming choked with traffic.

Does the above sound familiar?

And yet, the Government of the Netherlands and local communities were proactive and turned a negative into a positive.

They were keenly aware of the costs associated with increasing motor traffic: that it kills people, the cities and the environment and that continued dependence was unhealthy. They encouraged people to enjoy "car free Sundays", and over time they adapted their transport planning to integrate cycle paths quite naturally. Cycling and cyclists were no longer marginalised with the benefit of improved health, lower transport costs and safer cycling.
The world is currently staggering from crisis to crisis, unhealthily dependent on oil and seemingly willing to commit any crime to get the next oil "fix".

It's looking more and more like an addict who is completely unable to think clearly, rationally, wisely or thoughtfully - only able to focus on the immediate and next fix. The future and others who may yet come after us appear to be an irrelevant inconvenience.

Too often bullying countries and corporate leaders act like a drug dealer who will commit any amount of crimes to get what he wants, and justify it as well with arrogant, dismissive, wide eyed "honesty". Those pushing the drug of fossil fuel energy addiction are complicit in encouraging total dependence.

Are we able to pause, assess and choose to incorporate cycling in to the transport mix as wisely as the Netherlands did over 40 years ago. Or like the addict, will we pretend we "can't" and continue to make excuses?


walk2write said...

I would love to be able to cycle to work and home again. It's only 2.5 miles to where I now work. The only thing standing in my way is a busy road with no shoulder to speak of. I've seen other cyclists try to negotiate the traffic and come within a hairs-breadth of losing their lives.

Angela Felsted said...

I'm all for cycling. I think it's a great idea. If, however, we do put more emphasis on other kinds of transportation, we would need more consistent bike paths that can get us from point A to B.

Liza said...

Its funny that you write about this on a day that I read an article about bike sharing in Boston, AND noticed that cars seem to be getting bigger and bigger and BIGGER here in the states. I remembered back to the 70's when my parents sat in line for hours to get gas. Back then, cars got smaller and more efficient as a direct result. My thought today was that it seems like folks will pay what ever they have to for gas as long as they can get it easily. The only way to make them reconsider their transportation options is to make gas less available.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. I agree the Brits should have got their act into gear in the 70s .. and in the 50s we'd shut many of the local railways - Beeching's clever idea ...

People are getting on their bikes now - not sure how safe it always is .. but the cars are enormous over here too - some of them!

If people have money they often don't think of the effects and are very selfish in their approach to life.

Cheers Hilary

sue said...

w2w - I'm with you, I find cycling on roads with traffic really unpleasant. So often drivers come in far too close. I prefer rail trails where there are only cyclists and walkers.

Liza, We've also noticed the trend towards larger cars and many of them look like faux military vehicles too. Those driving them see to become more aggressive as well. I doubt there will be any push to make fuel any less available, greed seems to have taken over from rational thinking.

Hilary, They also shut down local railways here - what a foolhardy decision! New suburbs are splattering the countryside, and few have easy access to public transport and there aren't bike paths. The lack of common sense is breathtaking.

sue said...

Angela, My apologies for not replying, I found your comment in the spam folder :(
A co-ordinated, integrated, efficient, all-round system is what's needed. It's possible, but is the political will there?