U.S. cities that have long promoted bicycle use by commuters are now seeing a steady rise in the popularity of pedal power as gasoline prices soar.
Campaigns originally designed to cut down on traffic and pollution are now paying off for people looking for an option to driving with national gas prices averaging a record $4 per gallon.
People in cities such as Chicago, Washington and Portland, Oregon, can take advantage of bicycle lanes, bike-friendly transit systems and bike-parking locations built in recent years.
“Twelve years ago, I would bike down to City Hall and often it was a lonely ride,” said Ben Gomberg, Chicago’s bicycle program coordinator. “Today, there are often 17 or 18 riders stopped at the intersections.”
Unlike Europeans, Americans use bikes for transport sparingly, even though 40 percent of personal trips in the United States are two miles or less, according to bicycle advocates.
In a country famous for its love of cars and driving, less than 1 percent of personal trips are by bike compared with up to 30 percent in some parts of Europe, campaigners say.
But rates of bike use in some U.S. cities are significantly higher thanks to recognition by urban planners of the environmental, economic and health benefits.
In Portland, widely regarded as America’s most bike-friendly city, 5.4 percent of people said in a 2006 survey that the bicycle was their primary means of getting to work.