There are many things out there which may may look initially like a good idea to help to achieve this, but most are simply distractions.
One high-tech device that occasionally gets a bit of publicity is the Segway. It travels at the speed of a slow cyclist over a distance that anyone can cover on a bike, and it's expensive. However, it's championed by some as a "breakthrough".
So, what's not to like ?
- There's no-where to put any luggage or shopping except in a rucksack or other bag on the person.
- There's no way to carry a passenger (either child or adult)
- It's slow compared with a bicycle. Just 20 km/h (12.5 mph) maximum speed.
- It's very heavy to lift (around 50 kg) if you should need to move it. So forget carrying it onto a train, for instance.
- It uses batteries which will at some stage have to be disposed of or recycled.
- It is utterly dead in the water if the battery runs out as you're riding it.
- It does not promote physical fitness
- It costs... HOW MUCH ?
I've tried the Segway. It's a very neat device, technically clever and as easy to control as its promoters say. I didn't fall of it like George Bush did. I also think the developers did very well to produce it at all. However, that doesn't get over the basic pointlessness of the device. A bicycle is more useful in every way.
Mind you, there's no end to the silly ideas which get a bit of publicity every so often. Some people simply can't get used to the idea that bicycles actually are a really good way of getting about and they'll suggest virtually anything else. The Independent has even recently suggested that cycle lanes should be shared with horses. There are many impracticalities (e.g. are there enough stables should everyone decide to ride a horse ? Who will look after them ? How many injuries will be caused due to people thrown from horses ?) and I can also think of a brown, slippery and very smelly reason why this is a bad idea...
The Guardian writes about Fiat supporting a competition which picked a modified snowboard with handlebars as a good transportation alternative. They suggest that a skateboard would be a better alternative. It sometimes seems anything is to be considered in place of the already existing and proven bicycle.
I've nothing against horses, segways, snowboards, nor the people who ride any of these things. However, they are all examples of distraction technologies. Things that are promoted as ideal forms of transport when they are not, and when the truly practical alternative - the bicycle - is ignored by the British press, even though they're susceptible to reproducing the most preposterous green wash.
Even over emphasis on cycle training is missing the point. The reason that people don't cycle is that cycling feels unsafe. It is also viewed as inconvenient. If you really want to increase the rate of cycling, you need to tackle these problems directly by increasing subjective safety and directness so that people find cycling an attractive means of transport.
8th April 2009 update. Here's another example. I also recently wrote about over-reliance on the price of fuel.
a proposal for London to have "Skycycle", a network of cycle-paths built in the sky. This is a proposal for a very sparse network (220 km in total, about the same as the length of cycle-paths in Assen, but London's population is more than 100x as large) which won't go near most homes or most destinations. It's another distraction from what is really needed.
Luckily, it's crazy enough that it'll probably never be built. However, it will waste time, and London really does not have time to waste.
The picture at the top is of another, older, distraction technology: The "Bicycle Railroad". This was a late 19th century idea of a pedal powered monorail, which come back time and time again. This example is in the Velorama bicycle museum.