Bikenomics Book Review

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As a follow-up to her earlier ‘zine Bikenomics, Elly Blue has written and published a full-length book of the same title. As with much of her writing, Blue leads the reader through an exploration of thought-provoking ideas and arguments.

In one sense, the title of the book can be a little misleading to a reader only looking for the dollars and cents economic benefits of biking. While the book does provide detailed information about the economic benefits of biking, the costs of transportation infrastructure projects, the revenue sources that pay for those projects, and household economics around transportation; it also takes a holistic look at the broader financial, environmental, and social benefits of biking.

“A bike ride is a way to tackle, head on, the biggest problems in our personal lives, our communities, and the world.” If that sounds like a grandiose claim to you, then I suggest you pick up a copy of the book and read it. Blue uses concrete examples to ground her arguments and cogently works through her rationale for this assertion. I find this thoughtful holistic approach to be refreshing and in line with the triple bottom line approach that I prefer for decision-making; that is to consider the financial, environmental, and social costs of various alternatives.

Throughout the book she clarifies misconceptions about biking and transportation systems more broadly. In the first chapter she does an excellent job of debunking the Free Rider Myth—that bike riders don’t pay their fair share for road building and maintenance. Here and in subsequent chapters she discusses the real costs of transportation systems and how they are financed. Blue moves along to the health aspects of transportation systems and the health benefits of biking. The economics of our health care systems and the health benefits of biking mean that biking can make huge savings in healthcare costs. Recent research confirms earlier studies and beliefs about the benefits of physical activity.

From there she moves on to a discussion of bikeshare systems and the ways in which bike share can reduce barriers to entry for biking especially for the uninitiated. As is the case throughout the book, Blue casts an intense gaze at the equity implications of bikeshare systems and the decision-making process around the location of bikeshare stations. Another important discussion of equity found in Bikenomics centers around the tension between bike infrastructure improvements and gentrification, especially in places with devastating histories of urban renewal.

Traffic congestion and parking woes are two things that drivers love to complain about and Blue handily demonstrates the wrongheadedness of many folks approach to these problems. Next she moves on to a discussion of safety and the problematic popular conversations around road safety and the valuation of human life. The later chapters in the book address the bicycle infrastructure debates and the challenges around having reasonable conversations and debates about infrastructure, safety, and encouragement.

If you are already a believer, this book can help build your own arguments around the question of why biking matters. For skeptics, this book presents some compelling arguments and explanations in support of biking. I suspect that you may know one or two skeptics so why don’t you buy them a copy? The book can be purchased directly through the author’s publishing company and from other major book sellers.

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