Elly Blue was kind enough to send me a review copy of her Bikenomics zine, in the hopes that my audience might be interested in it. With that in mind, I read it looking to understand how it would serve both people who are interested in encouraging others to commute by bicycle and those who are (potentially) interested in beginning to commute by bicycle.
The 40-page zine vokes a compelling case for bicycling, focusing on both the personal and societal economic costs of our car-dependent lifestyle and the corresponding benefits of bicycling.
Whether you’re interested for yourself or for the sake of convincing others (or explaining your reasoning to them), there’s lots to like in this little package. If you’re already familiar with the economic arguments for bicycling, you’ll find it a handy reference for the statistics you’ve heard, and a useful pointer to the original resources they come from. Todd Litman’s work at VTPI [note: as of 1/3, the VTPI site is currently hacked; hopefully it will be back soon!] is particularly well-used and these statistics are among the most compelling. If you’re wanting to convince people that bicycling is a great choice, but aren’t as familiar with the economic arguments, it’s a readable and compact introduction to some of the major economic effects of the auto-oriented life most of us live today.
The writing is clear and accessible: Elly introduces concepts like “externalities” that may not be familiar to everyone with short and clear definitions, and covers each topic thoroughly yet briefly. The zine also contains the best summary that I’ve personally read on why freeway removal is an essential component of a bicycling future. Making city streets bike-friendly isn’t that difficult, usually requiring some paint and signals, and can be done relatively cheaply as part of road-building and maintenance. But freeways are inherently unfriendly to bicycling and active transportation: they erect barriers, promote sprawl and long-distance travel that’s only feasible by car, and create complex on- and off-ramps and constrained crossings that prioritize auto traffic flow and are difficult to navigate by bike.
There are a few weak points, though. Occasional casualness in the way that statistics are introduced and compared can make it unclear exactly who or what is costing or benefiting. Some copy-editing issues further muddle this up, as well as detracting from the overall excellent quality of the writing.
The zine also suffers a bit from disorganization and mission creep. The subtitle, “How Bicycling Can Save the Economy (if we let it)” suggests that its primary focus is on the benefits of bicycling, but the majority of the points more directly illustrate how our car-dependent society is sucking up resources. Of course, the counterpoint to this is that a “bicycle society” would allow us to avoid these costs, but lacking clear reiteration of this point, I didn’t turn the last page with the connection firmly in mind. And there’s minimal over-arching hierarchy to knit together the transitions between the personal and the societal, or the direct (business benefits) and the indirect (health benefits).
Finally, in the last section, the zine departs from traditionally economic points to discuss “well-being” and social and community concerns. This is my bread and butter as an advocate, and, as with the other topics, Elly does a nice job covering this in a compact way, but it doesn’t quite line up with the focus on the statistics and the current economic system in the rest of the zine.
Despite these minor criticisms, I thought Bikenomics was a great read for the excellent issue summaries and statistical information. And because it’s written in an informal style, it’s far more fun to read than similar summaries in the form of technical documents. Grab a copy and impress your friends, your company, and your elected officials with your knowledge of how bicycling can bring us a brighter future. You can find it on Elly’s website, and if you’re hungry for more depth, you can also read the columns it’s based on at Grist.