In a country entirely developed around an automobile infrastructure, American cities, suburbs and the interactions that take place within them are entirely structured around the paved road as the primary means of transportation. On the larger scale, airports and interstate highways dominate long distance travel. In recent decades the negative health consequences and environmental impact from fossil fueled transportation has come to light suggesting the need for a fundamental change in the way we live and, more importantly, travel. My proposal for this project is to intervene at one critical point in this developed system of travel to develop a transcontinental web of bicycle roadways, sparking a revolution in the way we think about travel and helping break our addiction to oil.
I plan to achieve this by retrofitting abandoned railroad lines into cycling trail highways. This technique has already seen much success in instances such as The Great Allegheny Passage and Rails to Trails organizations. The American railroad system connects existing cities as the once primary means of goods transportation but as the interstate highway began to dominate during the early 20th century this shifted in use to the cheaper tractor-trailer and automobile or airplane for long distance transportation. This left thousands of miles of rail lines abandoned. Their long, often unbroken paths and clear land ownership makes them perfect to be utilized as trailways.
Some of the health and societal problems this project would hope to address include social alienation due to suburban sprawl, respiratory problems associated with dense traffic and smog in the city, stress and obesity attributed to long daily commute times as well as a long host of others both direct and indirect. The automobile has been attributed to increased dependance on fast food, decreased community involvement and decreased physical activity resulting in a positive feedback loop, further increasing our dependance on the automobile. My aim is to break this cycle at its core, eventually eliminating the need for automotive transport on the personal scale.
In the long run, my hope is that travelers–many of which, young adults–will choose to use these cycling paths as a serious alternative to automotive and airline travel. Along these long distance trails small cities would spring up to accommodate travelers. Conceivably, many of these cities would, through recursive feedback loops, develop on average a days travel by bike apart. My sketch to the right outlines some of the key differences between these two types of cities. Being born of a bicycle and pedestrian motive infrastructure these cities would have a relatively small optimal population and environmental footprint as daily commute times would determine the maximum radius of the city. This could result in the formation of a “new” typology of American living that would closely resemble a subsistence based tribe. Communities would be close and involved, and physical activity would be an integral part of daily life.
Tranter, Paul J. “Speed Kills: The Complex Links Between Transport, Lack of Time and Urban Health.” Journal of Urban Health (2010). 155-166. 24 Sept. 2013.
- Public transport advocate solicits ideas to break ‘car culture’ in Penang (sustainablepenang.wordpress.com)