18 January 2015

A Matter Of Condiitoning?

In response to the post I wrote yesterday, Steve A made some really good points.

For one, the US states with the lowest rates of cycling and walking to work were, for the most part, developed later than the ones with the highest rates.   Those states have sprawling metropoli—As Steve points out, Dallas-Fort Worth is half the size of the Netherlands!—in stark contrast to more concentrated cities like New York.

Newer conurbations, for the most part, were surrounded by open land:  Think of Las Vegas, for example.  They were not constrained by water, as New York, Boston and San Francisco are, or by established communities or other natural or artificial boundaries.  And the sprawl of cities like Las Vegas and Jacksonville, FL was enabled, in large part, by the multilane highways that were carved through them.

Moreover, most of the newly-developed cities in the Sunbelt did not build meaningful—or any—mass-transit systems.  As cities and suburbs sprawled, the lack of trains, buses, trolleys and other public vehicles essentially forced dependency on the automobile that would have been merely enabled by the highways.

(In stark contrast, the bike-friendly cities of Europe have expanded their boundaries little, if at all, since the Middle Ages. And they are not divided by expressways in the way American cities are.)


Another point Steve makes is that much Sun Belt development has been spurred or aided by air conditioners.  I recall now the times I’ve gone to Florida and Texas during the summer:  People spend most of their days indoors, in their homes or in movie theatres and shopping malls.  If they walk, cycle, run or engage in any outdoor activities, they’re out early in the morning or evening.  I usually did the same:  If I was outdoors in the middle of the day, I was in a body of water!

And, interestingly, the states with the lowest rates of cycling and walking to work are, mainly, the ones that depend on air conditioning.  Cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas would be all but nonexistent without it; they are also not cities known for cycling or pedestrian advocacy.

Hmm…Steve’s Law of the inverse relationship between cycling and the use of air conditioners.  Interesting.  That flies in the face of what most people (most non-cyclists, anyway) believe about the relationship between weather or climate and cycling.  It makes sense to me.  Good work, Steve.  Now, if you don’t want to take credit for it…;-)


  1. Combining some thoughts about your previous post in with this...
    I would bet that having (or not) the financial means to drive would play a part in this, too. Also, sheer sizes of the cities in various parts of the country.

    My thoughts are that in big, dense, cities like NYC and Boston and Chicago (for example), the "cost of driving" is prohibitively high. Congestion makes driving a nightmare. Astronomical parking fees make owning your own car a huge money pit. Owning a parking spot in these big cities can easily cost as much as a serviceable house in, say, the Midwest.
    Factor auto expenses and headaches versus the relative cheapness and ubiquity of bikes, and it's hardly surprising that it's not abnormal for somebody to be a cycle-commuter, particularly when tag-teaming decent public transport options. In my experience with these areas, public transport is relatively cheap, easily accessible, and fairly far-reaching.

    In the south and midwest part of the country, the sprawl of the cities and the relative absence of any sort of self-contained communities, and the lack of decent public transport options (as a companion to biking in a car-free lifestyle, I generally figure that public transport options are necessary to factor in with cycle-commuting, unless you work, and play, within walking-distance of your home) make cycling a more uncommon thing. Add in that parking options are commonly free (or trivially inexpensive), and distances between work, social venues, schools, etc. are all separated by non-trivial distances spanned by highways.

    I've never been to Alaska, but I wonder if their higher rate of cycling could be attributed to the fact that they do have more "complete" communities? For example, I don't believe somebody in an Alaskan city would go get their hair cut someplace 20 miles away from their home, then go to the grocery store 20 miles in the other direction, then go to dinner and the movies 20 miles away in some other direction. All of that wouldn't even cause somebody living in my city to bat an eye. In Alaska, it's all a little more condensed, out of necessity. Also, vehicles are hard to keep running when it's super cold. Expensive to keep running. Sure, there's some big-money folks up there, but there's also some less-affluent folks that probably do some bartering for their day-to-day living, and I don't think you can barter for fuel too much.

    Heh, sorry, this comment was a little rambling...


  2. Sadly, neither of us should take credit for the AC theory. I read it some years back on the Internet. Unfortunately, the excellent analysis is now vanished. BTW, DFW is the least densely populated major metro in the world.

  3. Steve--Had you not been honest, I would have been none the wiser. Thanks for pointing it out, though. And it's interesting--if not surprising--to learn that DFW is the least densely populated metro area.

    Wolf--What you say in your first three paragraph sums up one of the main reasons why I have never driven or owned a car in NYC. It just doesn't make any sense for me to do so.

    Most people in the low-density, auto-dependent areas don't realize the degree to which their lifestyle is subsidized. The funny thing is that some of them are among the first to decry government spending on education, child nutrition, health and such.

  4. New Orleans has a relatively large population bike commuters. It is hot and humid here, mostly. However, most of it settled before the automobile. It is flat and a great place to bike in.

  5. Roger--Thanks for the information. NO is, I believe, an anomaly in the region in that, as you say, most of it was settled before the automobile and it's flat. Also, I think, its river and other water boundaries prevent it from expanding as cities like Las Vegas and some Texas metropoli have.

  6. I think we should put Steve on the spot and ask for a reference - No, just kidding!
    Nice article, Justine!
    Atlanta has a good number of commuters, especially within the perimeter.
    While not as hot in the summer as DFW, it gets pretty toasty and very muggy here.
    It is quite hilly also.
    Peace :)

  7. Chandra--Thank you. It's great to hear from you again! I'm glad that there are a lot of commuters in Atlanta. I must say, I was impressed to see the bike patrol within the corridors of Hartsfield International!

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