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Bill Nye: Scientist on Wheels

February 29, 2012, 12:00 AM

Bill Nye has always mixed science and comedy, dating back to his early career when he balanced his day job as an engineer at Boeing with his nighttime routine as a stand-up comic. Later Nye was able to combine those passions in his award-winning PBS show Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Another passion for Nye is cycling, as seen in this clip in which Nye rides his bike to demonstrate the distance between planets in our solar system. 

And yet, if you really want to humor yourself imagine Nye on his daily bike commute in Los Angeles, as he battles the potholes and the paparazzi alike (Nye told Big Think about the time half a dozen SUVs "drove right in front of me crossing lanes of traffic, I mean, breaking the law, being very aggressive, because Britney Spears was having lunch nearby.") 

Nye also has to look out for texting drivers. "As a cyclist," he tells Big Think, you need to be "more attuned to what I call people’s wheel language, or wheel behavior. If you watch their front wheels, the steering wheel, you can tell when people are not paying attention." 

What's the Big Idea?

Bill Nye, who told The New York Times his home heating bill is just $7 a month, actively promotes the green lifestyle, and a big part of that for him involves cycling. As he told Big Think, cycling is good for the environment, good for personal health and is incredibly efficient: "There’s no machine known that is more efficient than a human on a bicycle," he said. "Bowl of oatmeal, 30 miles -- you can’t come close to that."

And yet, the world is not so hospitable to a man who has resolved to ride his bike six miles to the Burbank airport for his next flight. "I’ll have to travel light enough to fit my luggage on the bike," he said. Los Angeles, after all, is not exactly a European-style city. It is more like a transportation planning dystopia. As that 80s song goes, "Nobody walks in L.A." To make matters worse, the city's streets have been neglected for decades, and are in desperate need of repair. Nye says L.A.'s bumpy roads slow traffic down a lot and "make people make bad decisions, weaving in and out of lanes."

So we asked Nye what his ideal city of the future would look like, and what infrastructure is necessary for building a sustainable transportation system. 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

In the "crazy Bill vision" of future urban transportation infrastructure, Nye proposes weather-tight "bicycle arterials" that he says are cost-efficient when compared to a modern roadway. And yet, is our society ready to make these commitments to green infrastructure? "You could do that if you were committed," says Nye, who points to Western cities such as Portland, Oregon, who have "different ideas about their relationship to the environment."

Editor's note: Nye's latest effort called "Consider The Following" is a series of short videos in support of theExploraVision Awards that are designed to get young people "excited about science so that we will have more scientists and especially engineers in the future so that we can—dare I say it—change the world."  

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan


Bill Nye: Scientist on Wheels

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