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Today is National Bike to Work Day.  Today also happens to be Very Rainy around here.

This is of course going to put the kibosh on many fair-weather plans to bike to work, but that is to be expected.  I never did like driving into the rain.  The constant, yet unpredictable spatter of rain against my squinting eyeballs makes for an unpleasant time, no matter how much GoreTex covers the rest of me.

Bikes, as you know, require much less space per passenger than traffic.  They also weigh a heck of a lot less.  While it costs an average of $3,000,000 to build and $9,000  annually to maintain a traffic lane, it costs only $60,000 to build and $2,400 to maintain a bike lane*.
The problem is with all this rain, however.  As I was taking our trash out this morning (more on that in a later week), I marveled at the roar of the nearby creek, swollen by the runoff from all the parking, roads, and roofs jettisoning water directly to it from its tiny suburban watershed.  One great advantage of biking is that it doesn’t generate nearly as much runoff as traffic per passenger or per route mile, if only we were able to use biking more.  An article on this makes the case for bikes and stormwater better than I could here.

But I thought I’d invert that thinking and ask It if iwe really needed a pavement that goes away when it’s not needed, and comes right back when it is.

This is only a bit less crazy than glow in the dark pavements or solar pavements, which are both in development by startups right now.  I wish them luck, knowing what I do about the design and paving business.  The reason I’d like to see a dynamic pavement is all about waste.  Wo much of what we pave is not used most of the day or even most of the year.  Peak traffic occurs for less than 1 hour a day, and provides those blessed enough to participate in it a truly infuriating ride to and from work every day.  The roads are sized to make this peak as tolerable as it can be, and are oversized for the the remainder of the day.  The few times I’ve driven around at 2 or 3 in the morning, I’ve been struck by the bare pavement of it all.  I’d like to make a point  someday to go photograph it for you sometime.  Parking lots are sized not just for traffic throughout, but also for peak traffic, typically “Christmas Eve shopping”.  There are 800 million parking spaces in a nation with 250 million cars, so at least two thirds of these are going to be vacant at any given time.  

It seems like the ability to change from pavement to permeable would be a real asset to the US.  Especially when its raining.  If our pavement responded to rain by absorbing water, rather than shedding it, we would no longer have a stormwater issue.  Except for truly large storms, like hurricanes, of course.  Better post this before the flash flood watch ends.


Monday, I’ll write a bit more about health and traffic, from outside the car this time.

* Of course that number is much less reliable for bike lanes than for cars.  I welcome people telling me how wrong it is, if they have better numbers.