Be the Prius… or the Cyclist

Energy Monotor

I was planning to write something on this topic, and coincidentally, my Aunt forwarded me this Op Ed from the New York Times. In Be the Prius, Tom Vanderbilt tells us:

In Europe, where gas prices are often more than twice what they are here, eco-driving has become mandatory in the driving curriculums in Germany, Sweden and, most recently, Britain. Beginning drivers are taught to avoid idling, unnecessary braking and jackrabbit starts at traffic lights, among other lessons that can bring fuel savings to as high as 25 percent.

Driver’s ed? What a novel concept! But I digress.

I pulled a muscle in my back and had to drive my car all last week. I like for my $50 tanks of gas to last a month, but that doesn’t work if I have to drive the car every day. I’m normally a calm and careful driver — accelerating slowly and always driving the speed limit — but recently I’ve become more conscious of traffic light timing and not losing momentum. Like I do on my bicycle.

The cost of acceleration and the value of momentum is something that cyclists understand well. Drivers of many hybrid vehicles have come to understand it, too, because of the nifty dashboard displays which show them real-time fuel consumption. My Aunt told me her Toyota Camry Hybrid “rewards” her when she improves her average miles-per-gallon numbers. She said “It even flashes ‘EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT’ on the dashboard!”

One motorist behavior that makes the roads feel intimidating for cyclists (and pedestrians) is the surging. I’ve never understood why people feel they must speed to that next red light, speed to the back of the traffic jam, speed between the speed bumps.

I have been noticing a small increase in other drivers who appear to be trying to reduce gas consumption with driving style, but I’m still amazed that nearly every time I coast toward a red light some impatient motorist (in an SUV or pick-up, no less) will gun it just to get there and wait.

I see a better world for vulnerable road users as necessity and increased awareness of conservative driving begins to affect our traffic culture. Add smaller cars and more two-wheeled vehicles and the future looks good. I’m willing to pay the price at the pump for that.

1 reply
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Much of my cycling during the 80s was done as the captain on a tandem. “I have orders to kill you, captain”

    Tandem bikes are somewhat more massive than single-rider versions, so one learns momentum management in order to avoid stopping at red lights. I’m not sure if it was the drivers’ ed back in the 70s or the cycling, but the habits carry over in both places. My wife didn’t have to learn it (no driver’s ed, navigator spot on the tandem) until she started to drive an electric vehicle. A little bit of energy management goes a long way in an EV too.

    As a vehicular cyclist, in a hundred pound velomobile, energy management is critical. Slowing from 20 mph to a coast speed of 15 mph really doesn’t change the habits of the drivers behind me. They still zoom by and stop at the light. Unfortunately, it means that I have to adjust my energy to allow for the extended line of stopped traffic at the light.

    In both the EVs and the velomobile, I’d like to have the “sign-space” to read “If you’re reading this, your fuel economy is improving” or something similar.

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