One of the most pervasive arguments I hear against using bicycles for basic transportation is what I call the “productivity” argument. “Cycling takes too long and I’m just too busy” is how it is typically presented. The insinuation is that cycling would cut into productivity.
I was thinking about this again because the Cycling Embassy of Denmark re-posted an article from CNBC on Facebook yesterday. It was jolting. Sixty two percent of Danish adults ride a bicycle for transportation every day. Over forty percent use a bike to get to work and back. Here in America, the number is in the high single digits in the best places and close to zero pretty much everywhere else.
I think intelligent people look at anomalies like this and try to work through them, especially when they impact the quality of their lives. Denmark is consistently ranked as the happiest country on earth. Netherlands is almost always in the top ten as are other bike friendly nations like Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The US is nowhere to be found on the happy lists.
But at least we’re productive, right? Sorta… We’re middle of the pack (20th) when it comes to the most productive people on the planet. When compared to happy list countries, we trail Norway (12th) and Switzerland (17th) and edge out Netherlands (22nd), Sweden (26th) and Denmark (31st).
Perhaps the reason our productivity isn’t where it should be is because we spend a lot of time sitting in traffic. This is the most unproductive time sink imaginable and yet the average American continues to put up with it. Ten of the world’s top twenty five (40%) traffic clogged cities are right here at home.
Against all evidence to the contrary, I still believe that most of us Americans are reasonably intelligent people, and so I wonder why we stubbornly cling to a model that no longer works. We’re not all that happy nor are we all that productive. We don’t have the money to maintain all of these crumbling roads we’ve built let alone build new ones, and we have a trillion dollar backlog in deferred maintenance. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. It’s not going to be fixed. Not now. Not ever. At best, it’s going to be patched. Bridges are going to fail. People are going to die.
All of this leads me to suspect that we’re in denial about the choices we’ve made and continue to make. I wonder if the Danes are happy and productive because they cycle or if they cycle because they’re happy and productive. I suspect it’s a little bit of both.