Why this woman says biking can save our economy

© Elly Blue brings her old-is-new couch home by bike. Photo: Ellee Thalheimer

Elly Blue has written and published more than a few bicycle zines and books. And yet, to speak with her, you wouldn't perhaps know right away that Blue is a cycling evangelist, because she doesn't automatically talk about biking. In conversation she might be just as likely to speak about Portland's food scene, her dog Ruby, or some facet of feminism.

In her latest book Bikenomics, Blue has a radical proposition: more bicycling, she says, will make us healthier and wealthier, both personally, in our cities, and as a country.

In the book, Blue has a knack for dropping these fairly radical ideas into a chatty personal narrative, so that you really want to hear more of the stories but realize hours later that a really different idea about common cultural truths is being offered up.

The book isn't short on facts, though, such as this one: the average family spends more each year on car transportation - upwards of $10,000 - than they do on groceries.

Or the fact that bicycling, Blue says, is one mode of transportation where there's a return on investment, with cyclists paying more than their fair share for roadways costs.

The biggest overall return from bicycling is health - in the book Blue says if we

"ignored all other economic and community benefits of bicycling, the factor of health alone is more than enough reason to invest hundreds of times as much as we currently do into retrofitting our entire country to be a bicycling paradise."

And don't forget happiness - having a bad [car] commute, Blue relates, is one of the most stressful things that a working person will do in the average day.

If you are thinking that all of the good reasons to ride don't signal economic happily-ever-after, well, wait. Blue isn't talking about 'fixing' the economy we have right now.

Instead, she's talking about looking to a different future.

We all know the basic facts. We know in the U.S. that our auto-based transportation system uses 2/3 of the oil we consume in this country, and that the U.S. eats up 22% of the world's flow of the black stuff each year.

And we also probably know the consequences of our auto dependence: in terms of carbon emissions, other pollutants, traffic fatalities, congestion, stress, etc. etc. But what we might not realize, at least not yet collectively, is that widespread bicycling can be a pretty effective and fairly low-cost way to reduce all those bad things and get more good stuff. Not the only way. But one pretty convenient way.

So what Blue means by 'save the economy' is using the bicycle more effectively and extensively than we have in the past, to help ourselves out of an auto-dependent economy and into something...else.

"What the bicycle can do - if we choose to use it this way - is to help us survive and move beyond...the worst of the the disasters we find ourselves in. The bicycle may not be able to save either the economy or the world we have now. But it is one means by which we may be able to get through whatever comes next with grace and meaning."

- Elly Blue

Why this woman says biking can save our economy
Elly Blue may live in bike-friendly Portland, Oregon. Every year Blue goes around the country on a book tour, and what she's found about bikes and cities may surprise you.

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