Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day!

Today is Blog Action Day. All around the world, 15,861 bloggers are writing posts about environmental issues today. Since I live in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I will comment briefly on bike commuting, a topic to which I’ve given much thought in the past few years.

I would love to ride my bike to work, instead of driving my car, at least two or three times per week. Even though I live ten miles from my workplace, I would be willing to invest the extra time required to cycle rather than drive. First of all, I find cycling more enjoyable than driving. I like the feel of the breeze blowing against my face as I ride and I enjoy the exertion of the exercise. Second, cycling is a far healthier activity than driving, as it yields measurable fitness and cardiovascular benefits. Third, it would be efficient for me to cycle as a means of making a trip I already must make rather than having to carve out additional simply to cycle for its own sake. After all, I only have so much time each day to dedicate to commuting, exercise and all other obligations. Fourth, if I could cycle to work, then my contribution to air pollution via my car would be reduced. This would benefit my family and neighbors.

So – why don’t I cycle to work? You can probably guess. I live in a highly developed area in which traffic congestion and air quality are ongoing issues of concern. Every morning, the Weather Channel posts a local air quality index on TV. This assists people with respiratory problems as they figure out how much time they can afford to spend outdoors without aggravating their conditions. Unfortunately, even if a biker wants to ride to work, there are days on which the air is too unhealthy for biking if one has a respiratory condition. Additionally, almost every road that I take to work is a 4-6-lane thoroughfare. The one road that is only 2 lanes has no shoulders and ridiculously heavy traffic. Quite simply, cycling to work on these roads would be unsafe. About 1.5 years ago, as I was driving along one of these roads during rush hour, I heard the grinding sound of metal behind me. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a human figure – sans helmet – flying through the air: a cyclist had been hit by a truck. ‘Nuff said about that. If more people could cycle to work safely, then, over time, the air quality should improve so that people with respiratory problems can opt to bike more frequently.

If the local government wants to get serious about decreasing air pollution in the area, then it should work actively to make the roads safer for cycling. All newly constructed roads should have designated bike lanes. All existing roads should have bike lanes added to them when they are resurfaced and repainted. Car owners who commute to work at least 50% of the time should get reductions on their property taxes (which include taxes on our cars) and should be eligible for reduced car insurance costs. Enhanced safety features and financial incentives such as these are just two areas in which changes could be made to get more people out of their cars and onto their bikes. Local citizens, including me, need to encourage local leaders to pick up ideas like these and make them reality. Active support of bike commuting by local governments would be a win-win situation for communities and cyclists.


Dave said...

I agree that we have not consistently created the infrastructure to facilitate people to use bikes and even mass transit. Bike paths have been limited for the most part to parks. Bike lanes are needed and so are cross town express bus routes. To take the bus to your office from home would be cumbersome to say the least since most bus routes have hubs only at Metro stops. You could almost walk to work quicker than it would take on buses.

Erik said...

Evie, you can envy me. My work is about 7 miles from home and I almost never use the car (to be honest, my wife needs it for her work which is 14 miles away, but we refuse to buy a second car although we can afford it). The air here is almost as fresh as on the middle of the ocean, so I enjoy the biking and many pictures on my p-blog have been made on my way to work or home. When European people come in the US they are always stunned by the lack of biking facilities: the cyclist is banned to countryside roads or exposured to lifethreatening danger, so the helmet is no luxury. Maybe government officials from city or state could come to Europe (Netherlands, why not?) to learn how to integrate bike facilities in the city traffic system. It's also what I said about "can" or "will" on my blog (see latest contribution): as an individual you want to, but you only can help a very tiny little thing to ban extreme circumstances, like clean air-warnings for people with respiratory problems, and when the air is polluted, it's healthier to drive than to bike, so the air becomes even more polluted etc. Maybe a doubling or tripling of gas prices would help but you can imagine the fate of the first politician who dares propose such a thing... if he is lucky, he will not be put in jail :)

Barbara said...

I really wish our area was more condusive to biking more and using the car less. Our country has such a love affair with their cars. It's really a shame that we can't get past that and do what we need to do to do our part.