Cycling- the answer to peak oil?

bikes parked in Amsterdam

bikes parked in Amsterdam

The first thing to say is no its not.  As we made implicit (if not explicit) in our book there is no single answer to peak oil.  Is it part of the answer?  For sure.  Transport is without doubt the biggest single user of oil since very few use it to generate electricity any more apart from the Saudis.  Cars, planes and trains (almost the title of a film) use vast amounts.

I’ve cycled for years, first in London as a student (no helmet).  I was only knocked off once, but it was terrifying looking back on it.  I’ve been knocked a few times since but still pedal almost everywhere I can in Edinburgh.  Why?  That’s a question I keep asking myself as cars pass me on both sides.  I do it partly for ecological reasons (including that of oil supply), partly for health reasons but mostly because its enjoyable and quicker than driving.  For journeys for which I sometimes drive its about 2-3 times as fast.  Its also easy to park.

Electrifying almost all road transport as well as almost all space heating is going to take very large amounts of investment in new renewable generation and a certain amount of new infrastructure (everything from charging points for cars to grid reinforcement).  None of this is likely to be cheap, neither are electric cars at present.  All this and higher oil prices in the short term means cycling should be making a comeback.  It is.

In London when I went to the paralympics I was amazed how many more people were cycling compared with my last visit.  In Edinburgh surveys done by the pressure group Spokes suggest that the number of journeys to work made by bike is on a long term upward trend.  This is because local government has been supportive.  In Edinburgh successive councils have built cycle lanes, put in bike racks and allowed cyclists other advantages such as to turn right or left where cars cannot for example.  In London both Ken Livingston (who didn’t cycle) and Boris (who cycles regularly after a fashion) have made cycling a central plank of their political platforms.  However, we are years behind the rest of Europe.  Amsterdam where the picture above was taken on a holiday was a revelation but Germany where we went next was even more impressive.  Every road had tarmacked cycle lanes on either side and even in the country they were in constant use as young and old cycled along them in the heat.  And its these off road cycle lanes we need to build to really get cycling moving.

Politicians don’t seem to get it here.  This blog post was started off in my mind by the “pedal on Parliament” demo.  The Scottish Government talk the talk but when it comes to action its all new roads.  Building cycle lanes is expensive, but compared to the cost of a new road its peanuts.  They need to accept the oil price is never going to come down and radically think their transport policy.  Lastly we should remember that electric cars only solve two problems related to cars oil depletion and pollution.  The others such as safety and visual intrusion, traffic jams etc. are the same whatever powers it.  Truly civilised cities have cycling and walking at their core.


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