The National Academy of Sciences recently put out lengthy report on how the US can cut gasoline consumption in half by 2030. They come out with a whole host of strategies, none of which can accomplish the goal on it's own, and those are covered by Brad Plumer here. He notes about one of the strategies
Public transit and changes in urban planning: Oddly, there’s not much here. The NAS report only makes one passing mention of things like telecommuting, public transportation, better traffic management, and compact land use. Which seems surprisingly brief. Surely one way to curtail gasoline use and cut greenhouse-gas emissions would be to make it easier for people to drive less.
In fact, in nearly 400 pages, they mention biking twice. Once about reducing VMT:
A range of policy options exists that have the potential to reduce VMT growth, but they differ widely in their likely impact. For example, policies to increase residential density are likely to produce limited results on a national scale. As discussed in Chapter 6, a previous National Research Council (NRC) report has found that a doubling in density of 75 percent of the new development by 2050, something that the report characterizes as “require[ing] such a significant departure from current housing trends, land use policies of jurisdictions on the urban fringe, and public preferences that they would be unrealistic absent a strong state or regional role in growth management,” would reduce VMT by only 8 to 11 percent below what it otherwise would be in 2050 (NRC, 2009). And even this extremely optimistic degree of doubling of the density of new residential development would have to be accompanied by large increases in the amount of mixed-use development and in the quality and accessibility of transit. A major study of the potential impact of other much-discussed factors, such as pedestrian and bicycle strategies, has shown them to have only a small impact on national VMT (NRC, 2009).
And once about Transportation Policy (which is really about paths, not bikes).
Transportation policies center on the provision and operation of the infrastructure needed for mobility. For the automobile, they have focused on building, maintaining, and supporting roadways. In urban areas, transportation policy also supports mass transit, as well as sidewalks and bike paths, and so affects the availability and affordability of alternatives to auto travel. There is a clear emphasis in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) official mission statement on ensuring speed of conveyance as well as safety and efficiency. With the automobile being by far the dominant mode of transportation for most Americans, facilitating auto travel has been a major part of DOT’s mission. Much of the necessary investment for highways and major roads is accomplished through a federal-state partnership approach, while most local roads are handled by municipalities with varying degrees of state involvement. A key financial reason for the success of automobiles is that the vehicles themselves are purchased by individual consumers, who also pay for operating costs, notably fuel. That leaves to government the provision and maintenance of infrastructure. This contrasts with public transit modes, which require a public or public-private partnership to acquire and operate the vehicles and their supporting infrastructure. Consumers ultimately pay for all aspects of any transport system, with taxes or other user fees supporting the publicly provided elements.
But growth in biking has been pretty substantial, even if actual numbers are small, over the last 17 years. And that is, frankly, without making much of a concerted effort. In Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons From the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany" by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, the authors point out that while only 1% of trips in the US are made by bicycle, 10% of trips in Germany and 18% of trips in the Netherlands are. They made that happen by investing in cycling (and making driving more expensive).
Biking in Germany quadrupled in a 25 year period from 1975-2000. A similar change would see a doubling in the United States over the same period, and with bike-sharing taking off, that may be conservative. Admittedly going from 1% of trips to 3-4% would not cause a dramatic reduction of VMT, but it seems to be dismissed by this report as a rounding error, when in fact it's a critical part of the puzzle. After all, if you add in congestion pricing, people are going to need other options.
Finally, one problem with an analysis like this is the focus on one problem. Biking may not be a massive solution to that problem. Or to global warming. Or to obesity. Or to congestion. So, looking at each of those problems individually means that biking can get dismissed as trivial. But active transportation has the unique quality of being able to help solve a lot of problems, and so an holistic approach should consider all of that when deciding how to solve problems. Biking may not bring a lot of firepower to reduce VMT, but policies that could help it grow have almost no cost when you consider the other benefits.