Since the middle of the 20th Century, the United States has become a largely suburban nation with massive road networks dependent on auto transport.
This infrastructure creates a series of problems:
1) Ongoing needs for enormous investments in road construction and maintenance
2) Tens of thousands of annual traffic deaths, plus many more injuries
3) Billions of dollars in lost productivity from time that workers spend sitting in traffic
4) Health problems from automotive exhaust and from the stress of driving
5) Social/family problems caused by the stress and time requirements of long commutes
6) National security and trade imbalance issues related to the import of huge amounts of oil to satisfy the gasoline needs of our automobiles.
Attempts to solve these problems have thus far proved largely ineffective. Repairing and expanding the current road system will have massive costs both in the short-term (construction) and in the long-run (maintenance). Creating a high-speed rail network is both technically challenging and extraordinarily expensive - a national vanity project.
It is encouraging to note the development of electric and hybrid cars. These hold some promise of reducing gasoline usage (although people may simply drive more if gas mileage improves), but they cannot solve the other issues around transportation infrastructure and congestion.
I believe that *part* of the solution should include government promotion of bicycling efforts. This Bicycle Promotion Program (BPP) could include several components:
1) Studies of existing bike path networks and bike share programs, particularly in Europe and Asia, but also in US cities like Portland, Oregon and Davis, California. These studies could identify best practices and distribute standards that would save various US cities from the problems of a trial-and-error approach.
2) Funds to build bike paths and bikeways in US cities and towns. The cost of building bike paths is a tiny fraction of the cost of building rail systems or highways. The cost of maintaining these systems is also tiny compared to the cost of maintaining and running road and rail networks.
3) Tax credits to encourage the purchase of bicycles, particularly electric-assist bicycles which can extend the range and terrain over which a person can feasibly commute or exercise.
4) Grants for bicycle-related research - i.e. materials that would make bicycles lighter or lengthen the battery life of electric-assist bicycles.