« Climate Signals | Main | What the Future Looks Like »

A Biking Dilemma

Okay, it's a standard presumption that global warming is going to make major heat waves more likely, in more places, lasting longer. Moreover, because of thermal inertia and climate commitment (not to mention how stubborn traditional politics seems to be on environmental issues), we're going to continue to see warming temperatures for at least a couple more decades. In short, the kind of heat I've been seeing locally over the last week -- multi-day 110°+ temperatures -- may be an increasingly common event for some time to come.

At the same time, you can't swing a dead climate treaty online without running into people who insist that a key solution for dramatic carbon reductions has to be vastly increased biking and walking. In principle, I agree (with the caveat that it's not always appropriate). But walking around a little bit today, I really started to wonder how much longer walking and bicycling will be considered viable transportation modes.

Granted, the northern California fires have made the air particularly, um, particulate-laden, but the heat has been overwhelming. Walking even a short distance today felt deadly.

I don't have an answer to this. I'm posing it more as an unanticipated dilemma: will one of the better ways of reducing personal carbon footprints see dramatic restrictions simply due to the heat?


"[. . . ] a key solution for dramatic carbon reductions has to be vastly increased biking and walking."

Filtered through the lens of a non-driver that works from home, I've always read the solution not as "more biking and walking," but as "less driving, and if you must go somewhere, then bike or walk." I walk daily, obviously, or else I'd have atrophied into a lump of goo by now, but years and years of not even thinking about a vehicle have informed my choices in what to do when I leave the house. Daily trots out to the store or the beach or the coffee shop: I thought about those before I moved in, and have all within a few blocks in case of inclement weather, hot or cold. Longer trips into or across town: Again, planned for before I moved in -- I'm two blocks from an arterial train. Even when I travel to other cities, I bear in mind public transport when picking a hotel, and try not make myself reliant on more than my feet.

I'm not sure if statistics back me up, but I've got the feeling that, less than just "biking or walking" everywhere, the trend will (have to) move toward "put thought into your surroundings when choosing your base of operations, because you're only going to be able to be outside for five minutes at best." Either way, it drastically changes the shape of the suburbs -- either changing them into smaller, self-contained neighborhoods, or digging bike and walk tunnels...

As someone who has spent a lot of his life in hot climates, I'd have to say that yes - you tend to avoid walking and biking during the day wherever possible.

Of course, the traditional response in hot climates (before air conditioned cars became ubiquitous) was to stay inside and not move around too much during the day - and instead get out and about in the morning and evening.

Places like Spain even evolved the smartest response of all - the siesta.

Personally I think the idea of a 3 hour sleep in the middle of the day pretty appealing - maybe global warming isn't so bas after all ;-)

Well, it all depends where you live, I guess. I live in Aachen, Germany, and walk to work every day. The weather rarely gets too hot for walking.

And with bicycling the heat tends to be less of a problem because you move faster and thus get cooled by the air moving past you.

As someone who mountain bikes through the Southern California summers ... I say get out more (or earlier in the day).

Looks like we are becoming re-localized? (i.e. Local banks, farmers markets, working from home, etc.) I've been seeing competeing messages: Decentralization of the city v. Re-centalizing

How we have orgnized ourselves has had its goods and bads. Now that we are learning so much more about organizational threory, maybe we can be smarter chattering monkeys and re-organize our infrastucture for the better.

Thanks, folks.

Ariana, you're absolutely right, of course. However, there's a particularly vocal set of environmentalists who remain adamant about bicycles as a key solution for transportation in a post-carbon era. When I occasionally post about the future of automobiles, I will nearly always get email afterward berating me for not talking about bikes instead.

Michael, I think re-centralization is the winning theme.

Odograph, that's why I posed this as a question -- it may well be that people who bike all the time would shrug off 110° heat waves. I'd be surprised, though.

Jurgen, one of the tricky aspects of all of this is the emergence of unexpected environmental shifts. You don't get heat waves in Aachen now, perhaps, but don't count on that continuing.

I think this phenomenon is exacerbated by the fact that walking and biking is not really a viable alternative for the majority of people who live in US suburbs. The distances are just too far.

I think the ultimate solution will be massive conversion to electric cars. In the meantime, a nice motorcycle or scooter seems to be a good alternative. Although it will still be hot...

When I do serious climbs on a mountain bike, I feel it reach a point (95F?) where I fight the heat and , not the climb ... but are we talking serious climbs?

For city riding I'd think it would be a question of clothing and time of day. If your commute to work is early enough you are probably good. If your ride to lunch or for groceries is short/flat enough you are still probably good.

(I think most "suburbs" have restaurants and markets within 2-3 miles ... it's just that we like the luxury to pick further destinations ... dare I say to drive 10 miles to the farmer's market?)

Here in greater PGH people drive very short distances to work or shop. I know people who drive 2-3 miles to work or ~1 mile to the grocery store or farmer's market. If we can get them walking or biking, that's a much better solution than driving a hybrid.

I think you're going to continue to hear criticism about ignoring bicycles from people who don't live in the urban sprawl of the bay area.

As far as the temps go, your part of the bay was pretty sparsely populated before running water and electricity, wasn't it? Did people ever permanently live there before AC?

Interestingly enough, I am about to add an electric motor to my bike. The theory being that a doable trip to work will be made more convenient (ie shorter) and hence more attractive.

I can appreciate the heat issue (although locally it's currently 12C at the moment!)

The solution here in Tokyo is massive air conditioning on the trains.

Which, I fully admit, I love. I often walk to work, but NFW am I going to do it in mid-summer heat and humidity here. Super-cool train and walking inside the nice air conditioned station for the win. And since we're talking about (by far) the most efficient public transportation system in the world, I'm not going to begrudge anyone the nice AC on the train.


Bicycles aren't suitable for a huge swathe of the population; anyone who's out of shape, elderly, ill, or doesn't have a good sense of balance. They're also not suitable everywhere. (Here in Edinburgh, we have quite a few steep hills; you've got to be a fitness fanatic to be a cyclist.)

On the other hand, something like the Segway weighs roughly the same as a bicycle, has similar range and speed, and comes with its own sense of balance. Yes, it's powered: think of it as an alternative to a bike with an electric battery assist and its own sense of balance. It's still got to be a couple of orders of magnitude more energy-efficient than a car as a means of moving a single person across short (up to 20 kilometer) suburban or urban distances.

If not the Segway, then we need something similar -- lightweight, idiot-proof, battery-powered, and suitable for carrying one person plus a couple of shopping bags for a few kilometers -- badly. Otherwise cars are going to stay the default option for many, with all that that implies.

There are probably about 60-70 million electric bikes and scooters in China (a lot of China can get very hot). Sales could be 25-30 million in 2008 and 2009. 100 million peddle bike sales worldwide. China has 450 million peddle bike users.


About 40,000 segways sold since 2001.

The Aptera and other enclosed suped up three wheel scooters for 300 mile range e-bikes/cars.

XP vehicles targetting inflatable electric cars with one model $2500. Light like an e-bike. Safe by riding around in something like car airbags. Climate controlled.

Here's a thought: If some American cities are incapable of adjusting to the new realities of high oil prices - because their residential areas are too far spread out, because the geography and climate makes bicycling unfeasible, and so forth - could they undergo a rapid collapse in population as everyone who can afford it moves to cities with a more viable infrastructure?

I spent two weeks in Columbus recently, and it did not seem ready for permanently high oil prices at all - next to no bicycle lanes, a very low population density throughout the metropolitan area (well, in comparison with Europe, at least...), public transportation services which did not even cover half the city... If more American cities are like this, things are going to be very bad.

There are some elderly in my area who use GEMs (www.gemcar.com). I think they are a good solution for those who need to carry a few bags of groceries, as well as those who find walking/biking difficult.

(I disdain Segways, but that may be the normal position of an ~50 YO bicyclist. E-Bikes which do the pedal-assist seem a better solution for single person transport.)


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37