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Fact or Urban Legend?

Research summaries often state trends or “facts” in overly-simplified terms, using measures that are easy for us to grasp. About five years ago, I recall hearing in a public radio piece that more than half the households in the world do not have access to a telephone. Later, because this “fact” seemed hard to believe, I did some hunting on the internet and learned that this generalization was not based on any research, but the story wound up becoming something of an urban legend that started getting mentioned in numerous broadcasts and publications.

I read a similar generalization, and couldn’t help but wonder if it was true or was another urban legend getting tossed around by cycling enthusiasts. The generalization: there are more people in the world who commute to work by bicycle than by automobile. There were no ratios, no numbers, trends, nothing. And, if it is true, is that ratio of bike commuters to car commuters increasing or decreasing?

Here’s one more “fact” that I heard last week. In a report about a joint World Bank/Chinese government research project on health and pollution in China, it was said that each day a thousand new cars are introduced into the streets of Beijing. In the aggregate, I suspect that a certain number of cars are being taken out of circulation each day because they’re no longer operable or people are moving out of the city, etc. But, it is a significant number of cars for each day in the year. For a city known in the past for its “river of bicycles” I can’t help but think that if bicycle commuters outnumber car commuters now, it won’t be for long.

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