As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I keep coming back to the idea that the real game changer is going to be an increase in gas prices. I believe this because I saw it with my own eyes in July 2008 when gas prices topped out at $4.12 per gallon. During that summer, you could barely get a bicycle on the Amtrak commuter train in Northern California. It got so bad (good?) that there was one car completely dedicated to hauling bicycles, with full racks and bikes overflowing into the aisles. That was also the period when bike industry insiders were heralding the new era of transportational bicycling, and in some cases, even gloating about the industry being recession-proof.
Ah, how quickly things can change.
By December of the same year, gas dropped to under $2 per gallon, effectively putting and end to the party. By July of the following year, the bike racks on my train were once again only half full, and the bike industry was straddled with an excess of inventory that was purchased during the prior year’s feeding frenzy. It appears we’ve pretty much been on a flat line ever since.
Certainly, there’s a no limit to the amount of work that can be done in the areas of advocacy, education, and product development. Improved infrastructure, public outreach, riders’ training, and more-and-better tools designed specifically for the transportational bicyclist are all well and good. I’m afraid, though, that these won’t be enough to spur the ten-fold increase in bicycle use we’re all hoping for; it appears only a permanent increase in gas prices will do that.