Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Here's an Idea

Sometimes when I take a long ride some germ of an idea gets planted in my head and I work on it. Mile after mile, the idea grows and grows. In many cases, the idea eventually turns into a wild fantasy: I've built and grown a bike shop; I've spent the rest of my life riding around the world with my wife and daughter; I've created a community cycling center; I've started a bike fabrication business that employs a hundred Spokanites; I've convinced the world that bike lanes are not the only answer to "getting your mother out on the roads."
My latest fantasy keeps coming back. I don't know why. Maybe because I have a 4 year old daughter whose future I ponder, and that I think about there is a significant shift in our lifestyle that is eminent. It may be 5 years, it may be 20, but it will certainly come and it's not likely to be a pleasant shift for most. I refer to this future thing simply as "Peak Oil." For anyone that cares to look or examine the realities the global economy, Peak Oil is obvious and well-understood. Peak oil brings with it some pretty grim economic baggage. There are signs that we are already entering a global recession, though it would be hard come to this conclusion if your only source of information is the mainstream media.
Anyway, the last time this country was hit hard economically was in the thirties. I'm no economist, nor am I a historian, but I do think it's hard to ignore the effects of the New Deal and programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps. Roosevelt, or his handlers, saw that we had all of the natural and human resources we needed to build a great country. So, he made the government useful in a way that we've not seen since: he took care of the people, which is what a government should do that is run by and for the people. Among other things, he built the national park system, provided power to rural areas, built public works projects (not the Interstate -- thanks Steve) -- see a full list of New Deal Programs here: http://tinyurl.com/ys4wcn).
He put America to work by making America better. Folks that could not previously find work were given work that made America a better place to live and do business.
It seems very likely to me that we could enter a similar economic recession in my life -- and certainly in my daughter's life – where we may actually need to once again rely on our government to look out for all of our economic interests, not just the interests of the biggest campaign contributors and insider pals. As cheap oil becomes not cheap, and an entire global economy that relies on cheap oil adjusts, we'll have a few years, maybe a generation, of transformation. This would be a good time to implement my latest fantasy.
In this fantasy, the idea of driving a car every day, with a single occupant, to and from work -- over 20 miles or so, will be a luxury only the very wealthy will indulge in. Cities will have to become more compact; the suburbs and exburbs will revert back to locally-grown agriculture; and regional transportation systems will become requirements.
Utilitarian bicycles will become worth their weight in gold. Bikes that are well-integrated machines that can haul a child and groceries through the rain over tough surfaces, and at night will be required. The silly racing bikes that are ubiquitous today will have no place in this fantasy.
A forward-thinking president, or his/her handlers, will see the obvious American industry: producing a utilitarian bicycle for the masses. Manufacturing and delivering cheap bikes from China and Taiwan will not be economically feasible. Further, the department-store-quality bikes that have traditionally been delivered from these countries will no longer be suitable for people who must rely on them day in and day out as reliable transportation.
The president will create a program to produce an American-made, high-quality, high-performance utilitarian bicycle. The bike will be a steel-framed bike. It will take disc brakes, so different size wheels can be swapped out on it. It will have integrated lights, racks, chaingaurd, and fenders. It will have high-output, low resistance hub-driven generator lighting. It will have an internally geared hub for low maintenance. It will come in multiple sizes and in a mixte version and in a multi-rider version. It will excel at hauling loads. Every part and piece of the bike will be made in America and it will be heavily subsidized so every able-bodied person in this country who wants to ride a quality bike can own one.
Anyway… back to the world of dreams.


Steve Heywood said...

Actually John the Interstate Highway system was started by President Eisenhower, not Roosevelt.

John Speare said...

Doh!. As I mentioned, I'm no historian.
A half of a second at Wikipedia would've done me well. Here's a list of the programs started under the New Deal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal#Notable_New_Deal_programs

John Speare said...

here's a smaller version of that link:

certhia said...

John--I like the way you think. :-)

Sign me up for a CCC crew converting wide roads to tree-shaded bike routes.

--scott in c'ville va

Kelly Masjoan said...

I like the vision... and the idea from scott about tree-shaded bike routes. Think of the money saved on road maintenance without all that pounding on the asphalt.

- Kelly

Pondering Pig said...

Can someone please start designing that bike? I want it right now! A bike that would allow an ordinary middle-aged person to get up South Hill with a load of supplies. What a vision!