Ralph Buehler’s transportation research has a global impact, particularly in the area of bicycling. More locally, his work with cycling trends in the United States provides important insights into infrastructure improvements that can be applied to the National Capital Region.
Buehler lives and works in Alexandria, Va.. He is an associate professor of urban affairs and planning in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ School of Public and International Affairs and a faculty Fellow with the Metropolitan Institute. He also chairs the Committee on Bicycle Transportation of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.
For Buehler and his students, Alexandria offers excellent opportunities for research, teaching, and outreach. “Local municipalities, such as Arlington and the district, are living laboratories and at the cutting edge when it comes to policies and implementation for bicycling and public transportation,” he said.
Buehler’s interest in cycling stems from his experience as a student Rutgers University, where he said he felt stranded in suburban New Jersey. Bicycles and public transportation are part of daily life in his native Germany, but he found people in the United States people reliant on cars. He got a bicycle, but riding it was a somewhat dangerous proposition.
He began studying transportation and urban planning and today is an internationally recognized expert on cycling behavior, safety, infrastructure, and policy in Europe and the United States.
“The amount of information [Buehler has] generated on cycling in the United States generally, and in comparison with cities in this region, is tremendously valuable at an academic level and to inform policy,” said Chris Zimmerman, a longtime member of the Arlington (Va.) County Board.
Bicycling is affordable, environmentally friendly, healthy, and should not be limited to those who are extremely fit or daring enough to battle traffic on busy roads, Buehler said. As he explained during a 2012 talk in Sweden, his objective is to “make cycling irresistible — not just something you do, but something you want to do.”
Buehler said people should use cycling as a mode of transportation when it is appropriate for their needs and municipal planners should accommodate them. “Sometimes you drive. Sometimes you ride the Metro. Sometimes you bike,” he said.
The call to improve cycling infrastructure and safety in the nation’s capital has its challenges, he said, but steps can be taken to continue the growth of the cycling trend.
Officials in Arlington County, Va., and Washington, D.C., launched Capital Bikeshare, known as CaBi, as the nation’s first regional bike sharing program in 2008. It now offers more than 1,800 bikes at more than 200 locations.
Ralph Buehler’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning students contribute to the program. In 2011, students in his Environmental Planning Studio provided demographic information on short-term users of the service. In fall 2013, the class is looking at the economic impact on businesses in the vicinity of CaBi stations and assessing the challenges and possible solutions to bike availability and distribution.
An interview with Ralph Buehler aired in September 2013 on the radio program “With Good Reason.” The episode, Pedal Power, is available online.
Ralph Buehler is one of the faculty members for a summer study abroad course at Virginia Tech’s Center for European Studies and Architecture in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland. The course, Sustainable Europe, covers topics related to energy, water resource management, and transportation.
As part of their look at sustainable transportation, students rode bikes to experience the cycling infrastructure in Freiburg, Germany. They blogged about their experiences and observations throughout the six-credit course.
Ralph Buehler explains some of the features that make his own bike a good choice for commuting in this video.
As one of Virginia Tech’s premier research initiatives, the Metropolitan Institute conducts basic and applied research on the dynamics of metropolitan complexities, such as demographics, environment, technology, design, transportation, and governance.