By Jeff Mapes
Oregon State University Press, 2009, 288 pp, ISBN 9780870714191
As I pedal to work every day – a middle-aged woman on a red girl’s bike – I’m so busy watching for turning cars and shattered glass that I rarely pause to wonder if I am, at that moment, part of a cultural revolution. Jeff Mapes would say that I am.
His book documents current and past bike activity and advocacy in support of his claim that we’re in the midst of a cultural shift toward bicycling becoming a mainstream form of transportation in the US. Biking, he contends, is increasingly being viewed as a sane, hip and even sexy way to get around town. Mapes, a political reporter who lives and bike-commutes in Oregon, has done his legwork, compiling loads of information. He includes interviews with key bike advocates and activists such as John Forester, the iconoclastic author of the 1970s classic Effective Cycling, tattooed Phil Sano, a fan of naked rides who has made several short “bike porn” movies, transportation planner Susan Zielinski who uses the term “new mobility” to talk about getting around without a private car, and Janette Sadik-Kahn, the transportation commissioner in New York City who has, among other initiatives, closed a section of Broadway to cars. Mapes also includes interesting historical tidbits such as Belva Ann Lockwood’s presidential campaign claim (in the 1880s) that “a tricycle means independence for women.”
The book focuses on urban cycling in places long associated with biking: Portland, New York and Davis, California, with nods toward San Francisco, Boulder and Madison. He also includes a chapter about the biking culture and infrastructure in Amsterdam. Mapes clearly likes biking and serves as a comfortable and able tour guide on his visits to these cities. I’d be more convinced, however, that a pedaling revolution is truly underway if he had detailed thriving bike cultures in Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas.
Still, kudos to Mapes for bundling all of this information in a readable package. Some of the information is basic (bike riding saves gas and burns calories) and some of it complicated (the varied plusses and problems of bike lanes versus bike paths versus bike boulevards versus cycle tracks) yet it’s an interesting read. And, with a six-page bibliography and a six-page index, it’s a great resource on bicycling and bike advocacy in the US.
Book Review by Kelly Nelson